The fitness industry is inundated with new training methodologies on what seems to be a daily basis. Lately the buzz is around the Insanity workout, P90X, Zumba, and Crossfit. Crossfit, in particular, has gained momentum over the past 16 years since Greg Glassman established it in 1995. Since then, thousands of Crossfit affiliate gyms opened, the annual “CrossFit Games” was established in 2007, Reebok became a sponsor, and ESPN decided to broadcast their games.
As a member of the fitness and rehab community, clients and patients began asking my personal opinion regarding Crossfit. Being curious as well, I recruited my boyfriend, a fellow strength coach, to try out a local Crossfit gym on the weekend. The class began with a tutorial of a proper clean using a 20-pound Dynamax ball followed by 50 reps for the “warm up.” Forget any mobility work, movement prep, or dynamic warm-up. Apparently they missed this memo. We then proceeded into the WOD (workout of the day) consisting of a 5 movement circuit, for time, that included 3 pushing movements, 1 pulling, and of course “abs” (sit-ups). Needless to say, I was not impressed with the programming, or lack there of.
My initial experience was not positive and left me questioning the Crossfit concept. I was discussing this workout with a patient who is involved in the Crossfit community. He convinced me that my trial did not embody the methodologies his gym offered. Supposedly this other Crossfit facility had a superior reputation in the country. Again I dragged my boyfriend along, which this time took major begging, to this “top Crossfit gym.” We were pleasantly surprised to begin the workout with a dynamic warm up and a decent explanation of why we were performing each movement. The workout that day involved teams of 3 and included a 300m run, kettlebell swings, dips, and push-ups for time. I will say that the friendly competition and camaraderie of the group made for a welcoming and boisterous environment.
Following the trial class, I decided to explore the “method behind the madness” for 2 months. I attended three classes per week seeking out the two instructors I felt had the most “industry knowledge.” I was pleased to find out these instructors studied fitness professionals outside of the Crossfit world and were somewhat knowledgeable about screening movement and demonstrating proper progressions. Their “programming” was designed in six-week increments and included strength, metabolic conditioning, and gymnastics/skill that were combined in various ways. As hard as I tried to perform their workout of the day “as is,” I always ended up modifying and/or substituting in my own movements. I came to feel like the “problem child” of the group, but I wasn’t about to perform an exercise that would set me back for weeks. As I approached the two-month mark, I was ready to throw in the towel knowing that the programming wasn’t working for me. At least the experience allowed me to form my own opinion based on a legitimate experience, and not hearsay.
So, here are the positive things I found regarding my Crossfit experience:
- A great sense of community
- A fun competitive environment and ability to get people motivated (shoot, they’ve even created a competitive “sport” out of working out)
- Girls performing Olympic and power lifting exercises without batting an eye
- Performing full body “functional” movements (I was happy to see a gym with ropes, rings, dumbbells, and kettlebells rather than rows of machines and treadmills)
If I’m putting on my clinician/strength and conditioning coach hat and diving in a little deeper, there are some key issues I have:
- Workouts included power and/or Olympic lifts which were performed in more of an endurance format for time
- After writing down every WOD and reviewing my notes over the past 2 months, there were NO movements performed in the frontal or transverse plane
- The instructors stressed mobility work at the beginning of each workout, but rarely considered any stability/motor control exercises
- Instructors allowed clients to load a barbell for squats and overhead work when the client had no business performing the movement weighted due to obvious movement inefficiencies
- Related to number four, there was no movement screen prior to coaching any of the Olympic or power lifts
- The “all intensity, all the time” mentality is a great recipe for overtraining and exhaustion
Now, I’m sure if I performed the same experiment in traditional fitness facilities across town, there would be similar issues. And lets face it, as fitness professionals we often think our programs are superior to others for obvious reasons. If this facility were considered a leader in the Crossfit community, however, I would be hard pressed to recommend Crossfit to patients or athletes. To me, their workout risks outweigh their benefits, especially when the workouts are performed with poor form for time. Where the major issue lies, is clients/athletes with pre-existing musculoskeletal conditions and/or asymmetries. Consider the average athlete who most likely possess’ asymmetries as a result of their sport. It’s our job as strength coaches and sports rehab specialists to minimize these imbalances to prepare them for the upcoming season as well as manage them during the season. This means paying attention to detail (i.e. movement considerations for the sport, metabolic demands, common injuries, off season/preseason/in season, etc). Eric Cressey makes several key points in working with professional baseball pitchers and the shortcomings of Crossfit for these athletes (http://ericcressey.com/crossfit-for-baseball). Their answer to this criticism may be in their motto, “we specialize in not specializing.” But if this is the case, then why are they offering “specialty programs” including football, endurance, striking, running, rowing, etc?
So like many answers to questions that arise in the fitness community, I think the answer to the Crossfit conundrum is…it depends. If you are a healthy individual that is not training for anything specific, a respectable Crossfit gym may be appropriate. If you are an athlete with specific goals or an individual with underlying movement inefficiencies or previous injuries, Crossfit, in my opinion, is not a training methodology I would pursue.
About Dr. Jennifer Reiner
Jennifer is the chiropractor for Water and Sports Physical Therapy and Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, California. She obtained a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Exercise Science from the University of Florida and went on to pursue a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic West. As a member of the Palmer West Sports Council, Dr. Reiner focused her studies on sports injuries and rehabilitation. She is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and a TRX Sports Medicine instructor.
Dr. Reiner spent five years as the official chiropractor for the University of California San Diego, providing care to a variety of sports including swimming, soccer, volleyball, track and field, tennis, and basketball. She holds certifications in Graston Technique, Active Release Technique (ART, the FMS (Functional Movement Screen), SFMA (Selective Functional Movement Assessment), and K-laser therapy.