Thursday, August 02, 2012
The Problem(s) With CrossFit
“The Problem With...” has been used as a title three times this month. It wasn’t meant to be a theme but I’ve been tossed too many softballs lately not to swing away. The latest, sent by Tony Horton, would be virtual grand slam without any other commentary. But since y’all look to me for a critical eye I’ll add a little play by play to Hamilton Nolan’s inspired rant.
My friend Phil (in vid doing a one-finger one arm pull-up) re-posted this with the comment “I know that someone created CrossFit as a joke to anger me. Take the time to watch the video of the idiot doing 100 ‘pullups,’” which sums of the feeling of many of my friends, that the entire format is a bastardization of the principles of training we’ve been studying all our lives (not that Hitler is a friend but he sums up what most of us are thinking when he says, “What happened to the days when people actually wanted to be strong? When exercise was a science and not just trying to make people puke.”)
But I’m not as bothered as der Fuhrer. I see an upside. In fact I like doing CrossFit workouts. Sure, the WOD of often inane, based more on whims than physical assessment (what possible physical benefits could come from a max deadlift, sprinting around the block and then racing to 50 snatches anyway)? But who am I, once engaging in a race to 10,000 pull-ups, push-ups and Ab Rollers, to critique stupid physical acts? So when I’m not systematically targeting my training I’ll join in for shits and giggles. I’ve got a fast Fran time, even without kipping. Woo-hoo.
Look, I’m all for pushing your limits until you puke. I do it all the time. It’s when these perpetrators start taking themselves seriously, yammering on about “forging elite fitness” when what they’re actually doing is more like a child making up a game to keep busy, that it’s time lay down that law, which is precisely why Nolan’s piece is so entertaining.
“As far as workout fads go, Crossfit is absolutely outstanding,” he begins, weighing both sides objectively. “Because it features actual hard workouts with real exercises that will in fact get you in great shape, as opposed to, you know, fake kickboxing moves, or a glorified dance party, or an expensive contraption that does poorly what could be achieved better and cheaper elsewhere, or something that requires you to look at John Basedow's face for an extended period of time.”
Compare that to the more scientific example provided by Scott Abel, author of Metabolic Enhancement Training,
“As the name implies Crossfit wants to blend various training modalities to produce an effective workout. Certainly nothing wrong with that, as a general idea. However, Crossfit wants to use various training methods without obeying any of the principles behind these methods.”
Yeah, yeah yeah. Any egghead can make fun of group exercise. Its Nolan’s rapier-sharp wit turns the game into a blood bath. Like Hitler, he goes down the list of why CrossFit will likely be nothing but another exercise fad: group exercise, lack of specificity, too expensive, the whole cult thing, and, of course, the above-mentioned pull-ups...
One of Crossfit's trademark workouts is "Fran," which involves doing sets of 21, 15, and 9 pullups. Now: a very, very small percentage of the population is able to do a single set of 21 proper pullups, without stopping. I guarantee you that the majority of NFL football players cannot do this. But since it's so god damn important to make the numbers in the workout, Crossfit people do 21 kipping pullups instead, and then they're all, "Yeah, I just did 21 pullups right there." Yeah, and I can dunk a basketball as long as I'm jumping off a trampoline. Those are not pullups…(they are) like some undulating fish flopping from an iron bar.
But the big problem to me, as he deftly points out, is that you are going to get injured. Not if. When. A physical therapist asked me a few years back, “What the hell is CrossFit? I’ve been flooded with people every since a place opened down the street?” In the name of competition CrossFit promotes probably the three most dangerous things you can do during your training: one-rep max lifts, competition, and compromising form in the name of speed, again captured beautifully by Nolan.
All these timed workouts and competitive spirit and shit where they write your scores on a board and there is constant peer pressure to push yourself harder? You will get injured. You won't get an Olympic medal or a Super Bowl trophy for this. Just an injury. Enjoy that.
He finished by taking a shot at their elitism, again something that raises the ire of my friends. We’ve been circuit training for decades and if any of us ever uttered the word elite we’d be heaped with endless shame.
Doing burpees or overhead squats or 400 meter runs followed by handstand pushups does not mean you're "doing Crossfit." You're just working out. You don't own that shit. You bastards.