Workout fads come and go, so when CrossFit exploded onto the scene in 2011, most fitness fanatics thought it would go the way of Jazzercise and Tae Bo.
Instead, it became a movement. Despite its quiet beginnings, a feature in a national Reebok campaign and an endorsement by “Biggest Loser” trainer Bob Harper brought CrossFit to national prominence. Now, there are over 10,000 CrossFit gyms around the world, athletes can compete for $250,000 prizes at the national CrossFit Games, and the brand has spawned an entire culture of enthusiasts whose motto is “eat clean, train dirty.”
Like anything that takes on a cult status, CrossFit is not without its critics. But it also has fervent support from its superfans, who defend their fitness lifestyle to the death. Unfortunately, it’s those with deeply opposing “love it or hate it” outlooks that dominate the dialogue surrounding whether CrossFit is actually a beneficial workout. There’s very little balanced discussion, making it difficult for people trying to decide whether CrossFit is the right workout for them.
Physical therapist Shawn Monahan got together with fellow Physiofitness trainers Katie McIntosh (a 2014 graduate of the NYU DPT program) and Taylor Huang (a PT student at Long Island University) to discuss the good and the bad from a physical therapy perspective that puts your health and fitness first.
The number one feature CrossFit enthusiasts love is the sense of community. “There are no TVs, no distractions,” Shawn says. “It’s purely about people moving and training together.” Katie adds that “not everyone loves going to the gym…but they enjoy doing it as a group, making friends, and working together.” In addition to the atmosphere, the group also adds a tremendous amount of support, which can be crucial if you’re having a bad day. “There’s no judgment whether you lift 20 or 120 pounds,” Taylor says.
“Training with a coach is like being on a team,” Taylor says. The coaches are supportive, not drill sargeants, and inspire each athlete to do their best, no matter their level of fitness. Katie adds that the quality control for coaches used to be poor, but in the past couple of years they’ve had to undergo rigorous requirements and must meet a level 2 or level 3 certification in order to train at CrossFit brand gyms. The negative here, Shawn says, is that the student-to-trainer ratio can often be quite high, especially in Manhattan’s busy gyms. “If you don’t already know what you’re doing, CrossFit isn’t always the place to learn.”
3. Cross Training
Shawn says that the general idea of cross training itself is the best part about CrossFit. “You’re doing body weight exercises, weighted exercises, aerobic conditioning…it’s really cross-training in its greatest form.” You’re also exposed to a variety of exercises you wouldn’t necessarily get from a personal trainer, so you’re not doing the same workout day in and day out. “You’re targeting different muscle groups each day, and therefore challenging your body each day,” Katie says. The negative? “The workout of the day is the same for everyone, which falls short in addressing your individual movement and needs,” says Shawn, adding that “The ‘one workout fits all’ model is asking for problems.”
Nothing’s wrong with a bit of healthy competition, which comes naturally with the community aspect of CrossFit. However, some people tend to take this a bit too far, which leads to several cons. First of all, the exercises are timed, which “ruins your form when you’re trying to do more reps than the person next to you,” Taylor says. “Someone might not understand how to correctly do an exercise and makes beating records a priority over safety.” Katie agrees. “People aren’t always smart athletes, and the competitive aspect doesn’t always promote smart decisions.” Taylor likes that records of everyone’s achievements and goals are tacked up in the gym because it’s important to see progress, but sometimes athletes take it too far, which can lead to injury.
Weight-lifting is an important part of fitness not everyone makes a priority, despite its numerous benefits. If you go to the gym but tend to stick to the treadmill, CrossFit helps break that pattern by introducing weight-lifting into your fitness regiment. “We all know it builds muscle, but it also strengthens bones and is crucial for longevity,” Katie explains. Shawn agrees with the importance of weight-lifting for full-body fitness, but also sees a problem in the way weight-lifting is introduced. “People are attempting Olympic lifts – the snatch or clean and jerk for example – without having mastered basics like the dead lift, the squat, the push press…you need to build on your foundations. Crawl first, then walk.”
So, What Do We Think?
While our biggest criticism of CrossFit relates to the problem of injuries, this problem can be eliminated if you’re a smart athlete, focus on the quality over the quantity of your reps, know your limits, and make sure you’re moving correctly. At Physiofitness, we love seeing our clients stay fit however they can. If CrossFit works for your fitness goals and if you enjoy doing it, it is an excellent workout.