Critics of CrossFit are critics for a number of different reasons. The overzealous, cult-like behaviors of CrossFit proponents, the lack of form or proper technique, or the risk of serious injury that CrossFitters tend to ignore or scoff at can fray the nerves of some fitness enthusiasts.
CrossFit was founded by Greg Glassman back in the 90s after being banned as a trainer from several Santa Cruz gyms for having clients use everything but gym equipment to break a sweat. He was rumored to be a tough, unorthodox trainer that didn’t like to follow rules, which is why the Santa Cruz Police Academy asked him to be their trainer. From there he opened a gym and CrossFit quickly became the biggest fitness fad of the 2000s.
Now there are now over 6,000 gyms throughout the country and thousands of proponents. It’s inspired otherwise couch potatoes to get active and while doing so, they gain a whole community of friends and support, and they may even learn a few things about how to eat food properly while they’re racing through their WODs (workout of the day). Just about anything that gets people off their ass and sweating is good, but like every workout fad or routine, there are advantages and concerns. In our opinion though, as far as sustainable fitness goes, CrossFit just doesn’t cut it. Here’s why.
Training is Insufficient
Do a Google image search for CrossFit and you will find athletic bodies; ripped, sexy guys and girls working out and having fun. You will also see photo after photo of errors in form that would make an Olympic weightlifting coach lose their damn mind. Weightlifting technique is sacrificed for speed and volume. The importance of proper form varies from gym to gym, but it is literally impossible to maintain good form when doing exercise as a competition with a focus on speed and reps. I know of Crossfitters that take form seriously, but it is impossible to maintain proper form (the key to getting the most out of your reps while protecting your body) when knocking out 30 snatches in a minute.
The entire workout is a competition, not only against other members of your gym, but against your own personal bests in time, weight, and reps. Much of the CrossFit exercise arsenal consists of traditional movements modified specifically for speed or volume. Such as the kipping pullup, where you swing your body back, putting your torso at an angle to the bar instead of directly below it. Generally people can do more kipping pullups than regular deadhang pullups, but propelling your body in such a way puts unnecessary stress on the shoulder joint, putting the CrossFitter at risk of injury.
Uneducated Coaches & Trainers
Strength and conditioning specialists spend years learning proper technique of explosive exercises, and many of them have degrees in exercise science, biomechanics or kinesiology. But you (yes, you!) can be certified as a CrossFit Trainer by attending a two-day certification and passing a test at the end. You don’t have to have a background in training or coaching. In fact, even if you’ve never picked up a weight in your whole life, you can be certified as a CrossFit Trainer.
Once you’re certified as a CrossFit Trainer, you’re free to open your own “box” (or unairconditioned space between four walls and a ceiling). There’s no quality control enforcement whatsoever. Throwing less-than-ready (meaning out of shape, overweight, no lifting experience) individuals into groups inhibits any chance of getting one-on-one attention. WODs become a contest where the priority is speed and volume instead of form and technique, and beating your previous time or being top three in your group. These are complex, multi-joint movements being done for speed without proper teaching progressions. This is a recipe for disaster. Which leads me to the next point.
Deadlifts are not an exercise meant to be measured for speed or max reps. CrossFitters are continuously encouraged to push themselves beyond their limits. It’s highly competitive and people ignore signals from their bodies to push through a WOD and end up with serious injuries. Many of the people that sign up for CrossFit don’t have a fitness base sufficient enough to handle the workouts, but they are encouraged anyway. Many of the movements on their own are not dangerous, but performing them in a fatigued state, with improper coaching and form puts you at risk.
Claims from the Glassman cult about the system being “empirically driven and clinically tested” insinuates that CrossFit methods are scientifically supported. But I haven’t been able to find any articles that support CrossFit in any of the top-rated or peer-reviewed exercise physiology research journals.
If you are an athlete such as a football player or martial artist you do not want to do traumatic exercises. You want to build strength and increase speed and agility not hurt yourself working out.
High-intensity training can lead to a serious condition called rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo), in which muscle tissue breaks down and is carried by the bloodstream to the kidneys, which causes them to shut down. Many CrossFitters recognize the unofficial CrossFit mascot, Uncle Rhabdo, an exasperated cartoon clown, sometimes holding a bucket of vomit. Rhabdo is a life-threatening condition that has serious and possible long term side effects such as kidney failure, especially if not recognized early.
Longevity is Unrealistic
CrossFit isn’t a type of workout that people can do their whole lives. CrossFitters claim that CrossFit is a way of life, but joints cannot sustain health through years of high-intensity, high-impact and poor form. In fact, you might shorten the lifespan of your joints if CrossFit is your sole form of exercise due to the risk of injury and strain on your joints. Believe it or not, flipping a tractor tire down a track is bound to throw a few vertebrae off-kilter at some point.
An Unfit Founder?
One look at Glassman and you can see he no longer practices CrossFit. At 56, Glassman’s often unkempt appearance says anything but founder of the biggest fitness fad of the last decade and a half. Maybe years of his own medicine wore him out, but if his haggardness is indicative of anything, it’s probably proof that CrossFit is not a way of life.
A recent Joe Rogan podcast where he spoke with legendary jujitsu fighter and personal trainer, Steve Maxwell, summed up the criticisms of CrossFit (WARNING: graphic language):
Don’t get me wrong, I love a fitness phenomenon. It’s great to see a larger swath of the population getting fit. I just want to see it done right in order to maximize longevity and results.