I am often asked what I think about Crossfit. The Crossfit craze has certainly swept our country by storm and is moving across the world. With ESPN coverage of the Crossfit games and a Reebok sponsorship it has developed the strongest brand in the fitness industry. I love Crossfit. I think it is so cool. It started as a garage gym and the same garage gym feel still exists in its “boxes”. Crossfit develops a community for those who truly want to push themselves with others. It is challenging, competitive, extreme and fun. But, you must understand the “why” behind your motivation to exercise.
It would be unfair to characterize all Crossfit gyms in this manner but here are some of the pitfalls one should be aware of before joining a Crossfit box. Crossfit takes movements that are safe and functional and makes them extreme, turning safe movements into a high performance sport and / or competition. If you read the Crossfit website it is clear that one should and can adjust the scale of the WOD (Workout of the Day) making it more intense or less intense. Let’s say you show up at a Crossfit box and the WOD of the day is 21,15,9 of Deadlift, Burpees and Pull Ups for time. The deadlift weight for males is posted as 225 and for females 155. Is this safe for you?
The deadlift, burpee and pull up are great exercises. They are very functional movements. However, there are several factors to consider. Is your conditioning level at a point that it would be safe for you to deadlift? Can you deadlift with correct technique? Do you have any contraindications to exercise that would make the deadlift unsafe for you? Maybe you are fit to deadlift and have good technique but is 225 the right weight for you? Is doing 21 reps of deadlift wise? Are you able to do burpees? Can you do a pull up, much less 21 or a total of 45 for the 3 rounds? And this workout is set for time which means you must complete this as fast as you can. What happens to your technique as you push yourself to finish as fast as you can? What happens when the group is pushing through and you feel a pain that concerns you? Do you keep pushing because of the peer pressure of the group and possibly get hurt? If all the men in your group are going with the 225 on deadlift or even scaling up to more weight and you know you should do less, do you scale down or give it a try and possibly get hurt? You can see the potential problems. Can one become a Crossfitter? Yes. Should everyone become a Crossfitter? Probably not.
Too much volume and overtraining cause injuries. Twenty-one reps is too many for most people. Reps between 5-12 is much more safe, but it also depends on the type of exercise. Rhabdomyolysis, although very rare, can kill you and occurs typically after performing very high volume of repetitions and pushing oneself to an extreme. How will you know what is safe for you? How old are you? One’s age is a real factor. Crossfit can be done at any age but without proper technique and scaling, it is an injury waiting to happen.
If you are young and very fit and want to see how hard you can push yourself in a variety of weightlifting, powerlifting, cardio, sprints, plyometric and gymnastic movements and enjoy doing this in a community / team atmosphere, by all means jump in and find a box. If you don’t fit this description it doesn’t mean Crossfit can’t be for you, but you better be very thoughtful about what you are doing and the quality of coaches at the box you decide to join.
As we age I would encourage you to see exercise as a means to maintain or improve one’s quality of life. You don’t have to be able to complete 21,15,9 of Thrusters and Pull Ups in less than 3 minutes to be healthy and fit. The goal should be about building a functional body that will stand the test of time, allow you to continue doing the activities you enjoy and allow you to try new ones. The goal should be about developing proper cardiovascular health. The goal should be about learning and developing healthy eating habits as a lifestyle.
As we age and if we have been relatively sedentary it makes more sense, for at least a period of time, to use a personal trainer who can develop an exercise prescription specific to your true health needs and functional weaknesses. Someone who can provide accountability, encouragement and training that is safe and effective specifically for you.