CrossFit seems to be the marmite of the fitness world; you either love it or you hate it. Whether CrossFit is the best thing that ever happened to you or you think it is the worst fitness craze ever, everyone seems to have seriously strong opinions about it.But what actually goes on at a CrossFit gym? Why has it taken the world by storm? And are there really severe health dangers awaiting those who take part?
Created by former gymnast Greg Glassman with the help of Lauren Glassman in 2000, CrossFit encompasses a range of exercises to ‘forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness’ according to their brand’s guidebook. Classes include a combination of Olympic lifts, cardiovascular training and multi-joint bodyweight exercises. The fitness phenomenon has steadily been growing to world domination size over the past decade and now boasts in excess of 4400 gyms worldwide and near 400 in just California alone!
As well as hitting a gym which is kitted out with tyres, ropes, barbells, iron weights and medicine balls, you can expect to be involved in a workout which is based around performing as many reps as possible in a given time frame. This method of working out encourages you to get competitive and push yourself to the limit, it is also the reason that many believe it to be a danger to health but more on that later. CrossFit also recommend two well known diets – The Paleo (or caveman) Diet and The Zone Diet.
Much of CrossFit is based around a virtual online community where all PB’s and workout updates are posted by members who are able to offer support and competition to other members as well as having regular access to new workouts from CrossFit. For anyone who has stumbled on a CrossFit site without ever having been initiated into the CrossFit clan, there may be some abbreviations that you find confusing…
WOD – Workout of the day
BOX – The name given to all CrossFit centres
RX’D – Completing a workout exactly as prescribed
AMRAP – As many rounds as possible
FOR TIME – Complete a set routine as fast as possible
OTMEM – On the minute every minute
BENCHMARK WOD – Workout to record your best score/time to track progress
ME – Maximal effort
1RP – 1 rep max
Common bodyweight exercises include:
Air/ Pistol Squats which are squats performed using own bodyweight through full range of motion (arse to grass). A pistol squat is performing this motion on one leg only. Box jumps, burpees, handstand push-ups, L-sits, rope climbs and muscle ups (think pull-up followed by a tricep dip so that you end with your entire upper body above the bar and arms locked straight).
The cardiovascular training in CrossFit is centred around running for the most part, but can also incorporate rowing too. The cardio training is usually time centred so that you push yourself to go as fast as possible/ perform as many laps as you can in a given time frame. The bouts of running are fast and the recovery periods are minimal.
Weight lifting exercises include:
Deadlift, kettlebell swings, squat press, tire flipping, clean, snatch and wallball (where a medicine ball is launched at the wall by the athlete).
The CrossFit Games
The CrossFit Games have been held annually every summer since 2007. In 2007, the first place prize money for the winning male and female competitor was $500. The prize increased to an astonishing $250,000 for the two winning competitors at the games last year. The games are said to determine the ‘fittest individuals on Earth’ and involve competing in workouts which are determined just 1 hour prior to competition. The competitors also have to participate in surprise elements that are not specifically related to any exercise trained at a CrossFit centre, for example, a rough water swim.
The 2012 male CrossFit champion is Rich Froning Jr. The 2012 female CrossFit champion is Annie Thorisdottir.
There are many categories in CrossFit competitions including individuals, age divisions and co-ed teams of 3 women and 3 men. There is also the CrossFit Open which is an online competition where workouts are posted and athletes are given several days to complete and submit their scores online.
The Pros and Cons of CrossFit
First of all it is important to recognise that any fitness regime or diet will come under scrutiny. There will always be firm followers and those who do not agree with the premise of certain companies and brands. With that said, far from being a fad diet or poor workout DVD, CrossFit encourages hard work, dedication and the training is highly functional. If you attend CrossFit you will get in shape there is no doubt about it, but it isn’t for everyone.
CrossFit is great for overall fitness. The combinations of cardio, weight lifting and bodyweight exercises will get you in shape! However, if you are training for something specific it may not be for you. The variation of training is great if you are not training for a specific sport or body shape and your goal is simply to be in the best shape of your life. However, if you have bodybuilding goals or want to improve at a specific sport regularly hitting a CrossFit centre is unlikely to help you meet those goals.
CrossFit is very reasonably priced for what it offers. The membership prices in the UK are relatively equal to what you would pay for an all inclusive membership at a regular gym, circa £35-50 per month depending on location and the contract you sign up for. The workouts are highly social and members offer support, encouragement and also competition to push other members to achieving their best possible workout. There is a real sense of community surrounding CrossFit and the social aspect at both the centres and online allow members to regularly interact with one another, post their PB’s and access new workouts on a daily basis. The fact that there is access to all this information outside of the centre keeps members motivated and ensures they are more likely to stick with training as it is unlikely to become tedious with such a variety of sessions on offer.
With all that being said, there are a few drawbacks. The fact that it is such a tight knit community and the workouts are ‘hardcore’ makes it very intimidating for beginners who may feel particularly embarrassed in sharing their workout online and feel inferior to those who have been initiated into the CrossFit craze for quite some time. With that said, if you are faint hearted and scare easily it may not be the place for you anyway.
One thing that does get discussed negatively is the form. Kipping pull-ups in particular have been placed under a lot of scrutiny because it is what the gym goers of this world would call a ‘cheating pull-up’. In other words, you use lower body momentum to pull you up instead of relying solely on upper body strength. Obviously, if you are not targeting specific muscle groups then the extra movement is not as much of a problem but poor form can lead to injury, particularly if poor form allows you to carry out a great deal more repetitions than you are truly capable of.
This leads us on to the injuries and illnesses that are associated with CrossFit. As I previously stated, all aspects of the fitness world come under scrutiny at some point and almost all will have negative health factors associated with it. While it is great that CrossFit encourages members to push themselves to the absolute limit in a ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality, some pain is your body telling you that enough is enough and by pushing through this you will achieve nothing but injury and illness. Many CrossFit enthusiasts will tell you that while they are pushed to the limit, safety is always a priority and of course it is up to you as an individual to listen to your body and respond accordingly.
For those who strike down a brand who are trying to improve the functional strength, fitness and lifestyle of individuals across the world for being ‘dangerous’ I would urge you to look at your own lifestyle first. If you do not exercise, eat junk food, drink heavily and/or smoke you are putting your health at serious risk on a daily basis and perhaps a little CrossFit would do you good.