Is CrossFit Good or Bad for You?

Is CrossFit Good or Bad for You

You’ve seen the commercials for Reebok or Nike glorifying CrossFit. The athletes in the commercial are working hard, pushing themselves to the limit, sweat is dripping off their brow, and they have a look so intense their brows have become etched with the strain and struggle of pushing themselves to the limit.

The music is pumping! The movement is so dynamic! It looks exciting! Man! Where can I sign up to try a class?

Sports companies love new trends like this because it’s sexy and exciting and they can supply products to satisfy people’s needs and desires to get fit and look hot. Nothing wrong with that, but there’s a bigger issue to address:

Is CrossFit Good or Bad for You?

The answer is: IT DEPENDS!

Working as a health and fitness coach I need to be aware of the latest trends and I need to stay informed. Things are constantly changing and evolving and not just in the world of health and fitness.

My role is to make things simple for my clients, to be the source of health information, to be the person who stays continually up-to-date, continues to pursue knowledge and expands my abilities. My role is not to confuse or lay on too much information.

Basically I need to be a funnel – I take in huge amounts of information and process it, tossing out the garbage and the superfluous, distilling what’s valuable, and translating the complicated. What comes out at the bottom of that funnel is not only minimal, but concentrated, essential “goodness”.

The Fundamentals

There are basic fundamentals in all areas of life. In strength training these fundamentals are backed by science and anecdotal, or “in-gym” and “on-the-field” observation.

I’ve been training clients long enough to know a few things. As a fitness coach I’m very concerned about the lack of knowledge I see on the side of some trainers teaching CrossFit, and the even greater lack of knowledge on the side of many individuals performing CrossFit WODs (Workout of the Day).

This is not to say that there are not some fantastic trainers and coaches who truly know how to teach and help clients master the lifts used in CrossFit, and who know when a client’s form is breaking down.

There are gifted individuals for whom CrossFit is a wonderful “sport”. They are already strong, athletic, and possibly masters of the Olympic lifts.

For example, a couple of individuals who I have been watching perform CrossFit over the last couple of years were all ready extremely strong and came from an athletic background. On top of that they are truly in their physical prime. These are the individuals who are competing at the CrossFit games.

Is CrossFit (Good) For You?

It depends – it’s not my role to tell anyone what they can or cannot do. There’re so many inspirational success stories of people who achieved greatness even when it seemed impossible, or when everyone they knew told them they could never achieve their goal.

Can You Learn (Master) the Lifts in CrossFit?

In its simplest form, CrossFit is a circuit program. This program is comprised of various lifts. Many of the lifts are Olympic Lifts, which for most people, take a long time to master.

This is not to say that you or anyone else cannot learn and master the same lifts, but there are many factors to consider:

  • If you don’t know the major lifts you could injure yourself?
  • If you don’t have a good instructor, you could injure yourself.

Even though I know all of the lifts (like the Olympic snatch and clean) and I can perform these lifts, I choose not to participate for a number of my own reasons, namely

  • I know how to Olympic lift, but I only properly learned these lifts in my early 40s. Age plays a role in one’s ability to physically adapt. I know my physical limitations and if I do Olympic lifts, it’s only rarely.
  • The amount of volume in CrossFit is, in my opinion, unnecessary and will probably (most likely) cause long-term joint damage, if not in the near future, then in several years.

CrossFit Protocols That Make Me Cringe

Kipping is a sure-fire way to eventually destroy your shoulder joint – at least for most people. Have you ever seen someone using the chin up bar, moving quickly in an up and down motion, somewhat circular and reminiscent of swinging monkeys? That would be what’s called a “butterfly kip pull-up”.

Why does CrossFit us high reps of the Olympic lifts like the clean and jerk? To what purpose? I’m assuming it’s because this lift will smash your metabolism, but my concern is that it might smash your body in a bad way.

These are the most technical lifts you can perform, which also require incredible nervous system control. Neural-based training (very heavy lifts like Olympic lifts and/or lifting in the 1-3 rep range for you max weight) require (generally speaking) a lot of rest and very low volume in order to adequately recover. If you’re not recovered before lifting again, the chance of injury increases dramatically.

Now of course when someone is doing a WOD and is doing a circuit of a few exercises with minimal rest, they will not be lifting their max weight or even the max weight that they could lift for the prescribed rep range, because of the lack of rest between exercises. This will not be neural-based training, rather it will be metabolic (which is why CrossFitters are always so sweaty!).

Again With the Fundamentals

Coming back to fundamentals, it takes time to learn and subsequently master any skill. Just because you are learning a skill doesn’t mean you can master it for any number of reasons – read more in my article, Learning a New Skill Takes Practice.

Depending on the complexity of the skill, there will be a greater number individual steps to learn and master before you can acquire the ability to perform that more complex skill.

This is the case when learning the Olympic lifts. If a new client who has never lifted weights before tells me, “I want to be able to do the clean and jerk”, I would first explain the sequence involved to get there. I would never teach the clean to a newbie, however, I would be able to teach parts of the lift, like the deadlift, the overhead press, the shrug, the jump shrug, and the front squat. As my client becomes proficient at those lifts, I can start to teach the clean as a sequence by teaching the lift in segments.

That could take a long time, but again, how long it takes depends on the individual.

And this is what bugs me the most: I see too many people performing Olympic lifts in CrossFit who don’t know how to do these lifts properly or safely.

Youth, strength, muscle, stubbornness, and pride can get you across the finish line. Other times it’s complete ignorance of the fact that CrossFit has made it too easy for people to partake in what can be dangerous lifting. But this is a Catch-22 because at the same time CrossFit has brought a lot of people into fitness, and it has shown many people how much fun it can be to workout.

The Larger Picture As I See It

CrossFit hasn’t been around long enough for people to see how much damage it could cause to their bodies.

That being said, there will be those fortunate enough to lift well, have an ability to handle the physical demands, get enough stretching and physical therapy to stay well.

There will also be some very rich chiropractors, and other physical therapist who properly position themselves to care for the Cross-Effed individuals.

For the rest of us there are so many ways to perform a strength training circuit to burn body fat, build muscle, and make you feel fantastic, without potentially crippling you in the process. Discover how with my online health & fitness coaching.

Eat well + move often = Being awesome!


More Reading