I had been hearing people talk about Crossfit and read about it online. Sounded cool. Just not sure I wanted or needed to join a Crossfit-only gym to do many (though not all) of the exercises I already do. I pride myself on working out hard and pushing my limits. My body fat percentage holds steady around 8%. Why do I need Crossfit?
Well, Star and I found a Gilt City deal for our local Crossfit – so cheap to try out 10 classes. I figured, what the hell, just try it out and see what the hysteria is all about. We had to take 3 fundamentals classes before we were allowed to do a real Crossfit class so that we learn and understand some of the basic moves used in Crossfit. There is a lot of Olympic style barbell lifting that is pretty advanced so it is important to at least have a basic understanding of the techniques.
While using the 10 original sessions, I was trying to figure out if I’d really sign up for Crossfit. Would I cancel or freeze my Equinox membership? Lots of pros and cons were bouncing around in my head. So, now that I’m about a month in, I think I’m ready to lay out my referrendum on Crossfit. I’ll start with the pros.
- Intensity Level - Anyone who knows me or has worked out with me knows how important I believe it is to train at higher intensity levels. By this, I mean lifting heavier weights, focusing on compound movements and the major muscle groups. I mean moving quickly between sets to keep the heart rate elevated and burn more calories. I believe in pushing the limits of strength and speed. Crossfit is performance-oriented – a workout of the day (WOD) is prescribed each day with an Rx (prescribed) weight for women and for men on the given exercises which always change daily. While the workouts vary greatly from day to day, they are never easy and have been some of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done. I don’t see how one could commit to Crossfit and not see noticeable physical changes.
- Muscle Confusion - The fact that the workouts vary so greatly from day to day means the body is always guessing. It never has the chance to settle into that workout groove where it knows what’s coming, setting the body up for adaptation and slower metabolic response. I love this. While I take care to do this on my own, Crossfit takes it to another level. The fact is, that when programming for ourselves, we tend to stay within our comfort zone: favorite exercises, rep ranges that we are comfortable working in, etc. On different days in Crossfit, I’ve had do to 30 rep sets and 3 rep sets. Crossfit focuses on maximal strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular efficiency.
- Camaraderie - The Crossfit community is SO welcoming! I have to say, my first day in the real Crossfit class felt like I had made the Varsity and I was playing with the big boys! We have to pair up sometimes and forces us to interact with other people, which I think is fantastic. How often are you at the gym with your headphones on trying to communicate with some other dude who’s on the equipment you need and you’re not even really talking to each other? You’re making signing gestures to see how many sets he has left. That’s the aspect of working out I hear people complain about a lot: it’s boring, isolating. Star really appreciates the comradery among the women. Most women don’t talk to her at Equinox. I get it – she can be intimidating working out because she’s so focused. But at Crossfit, everyone there is serious about working out. And women really like to talk to other women who work out hard.
- Focus on Compound Movements and Olympic Style Lifting - This is great because it’s how people get the most bang for their buck with their exercise. The more major muscles you use in a given movement, the calories you’ll burn. Period.
- Competition - I know this can be off-putting to a lot of people. I’m not one to compete with others in the gym. Our main Crossfit instructor made it very clear on day 1 that the competition is with no one other than yourself. Even though the times and numbers are logged and written on the board for everyone to see, the competition should really be with yourself. I dig that. I also think it’s that competitive environment that brings out greater performances in people. I work harder when I’m working with other hard-working people. It’s as simple as that.
- Fun! It really is SO much fun! Call me a workout dork, but it is SO freeing for me to not have to think about what workout I’m doing and whether I feel like doing that workout, etc. I just get to show up and play with the other kids.
- Overall Program is Not Balanced - The Crossfit die-hards insist it is, but I don’t buy it. The reason why it is so important to train the muscles of the body in a balanced way (as opposed to overdoing always training certain muscle groups and neglecting others) is mainly to prevent injury. Another plus with balanced muscular training is symmetry and proper posture. My experience in Crossfit, so far, has been that my shoulders, traps, and triceps have been trained way more and with greater proportional loads than my legs, lats, and rhomboids have. It feels like I’m doing something in the way of shoulders (some form of overhead press) just about every time. I’m a big believer of what you do in one direction you should do equally in the opposite direction. Injuries most often occur as a result of a muscular imbalance in a part of the body that is being called upon to produce great force. The weak link gives. That’s why sports trainers pay great attention to training the opposing muscles of an athlete’s main movement. For example, tennis players and baseball pitchers set themselves up for overuse injuries in their performance shoulder. A great deal of focus is placed on the rotator cuff muscles, not because those muscles are the prime mover or prime generator of force in their respective motions, but because they are the muscles that decelerate the arm and are a much weaker muscle group as compared to the muscles that internally rotate the shoulder and produce the great force of the 100 mph fastball or the 120 mph serve. Crossfit also does not have a lot of multi-planar movements. Most movements are done in the sagital plane, meaning straight ahead and in front of the body. Most sports moves involve moving through multiple planes at the same time. Take a tennis player: she moves side to side, rotates her trunk to wind up and rotate the shoulder to smack the ball over the net. She’ll then have to run forward to net and backward to field the lob. You get the idea. Most sports involve challenging the body across all planes of motion. So, the lack of balance in Crossfit programming leads to my next con.
- High Risk of Injury - Now, I’m not an injury prude. I’m well aware that asking the body to perform at peak performance level leads to a higher risk of injury and THAT’S JUST A FACT OF FITNESS LIFE! If you want be your best you have to push to places you’ve never been before. Every athlete gets injured at some point. It’s the simple laws of nature and physics. Our job as trainers is to keep that risk AS LOW AS POSSIBLE WHILE DERIVING THE GREATEST GAINS POSSIBLE. It’s a constant balancing act. How can I challenge the athlete in a different way to produce measureable gains without hurting him? Crossfit is sport performance and olympic style lifting in a group setting. That means one coach oversees an entire group. It doesn’t matter how good the coach is, he can’t stay on top of everyone’s technique and form. Plus, different people have different issues that get in the way of proper form. I come from the school of thought that these irregular movement patterns need to be addressed before adding significant loads. Now, I have more body awareness and knowledge than the average person taking Crossfit, so I pretty much know when to back off (my competitive mentality, notwithstanding). I have seen more than a few people squatting with very poor form, people who have no business adding loads to their squat. My critique here is that too little attention is paid to rehab and corrective work for those that need it. My sense is that we may see a few lower back injuries as people progress too quickly or try to push themselves too far, too soon. I have had a lower back injury that flares up from time to time, so I know about this particular injury. Once you slip or bulge a disc, the opening is there and will probably happen again, at some point. It can be an excruciating injury. One has to decide if pushing this hard is worth the higher risk of injury.
For me, it’s been worth it. The natural high I get from pushing myself beyond what seems possible is unlike any other. Silly as it sounds, it also feels great to be talking and interacting with other people while working out! My body is definitely responding to these challenging workouts. I feel like I’m getting more ripped. And I’m having a blast. So, I’ll be around for awhile. Will I compete in the Crossfit games? Doubtful. But I haven’t ruled it out