CrossFit: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It’s hard to avoid all the chatter about CrossFit in this day and age, as the internet is resplendent with vocal individuals who either outright abhor it or absolutely love it. Settle down, I’m here to educate you on the subject and convey a balanced perspective on the popular fitness program.

CrossFit had humble beginnings. Founded in the year 2000, it started out as a small-time organisation, eventually picking up affiliates in the years to follow. In 2005, there were 13 affiliated gyms, but CrossFit, Inc. eventually boomed, and as of 2013 there are more than 6,000 CrossFit gyms around the globe. It has become a tremendous international success, and it keeps growing and growing.

In theory, it’s a solid program, mixing Olympic lifts with conditioning workouts to improve one’s strength and fitness. But it’s no stranger to controversy, and there is a very vocal community who take the piss out of CrossFitters and use every opportunity to criticise the corporation as a whole.

We’ll get the smaller controversy out of the way first. As explained by fitness gurus Robb Wolf and Greg Everett, CrossFit was intended to be a sport for everybody of every fitness level, catering for fit young gym nuts, morbidly obese, unfit people, and senior citizens wanting to keep themselves in shape. But the introduction of the CrossFit Games in 2007 changed this perspective, turning the “sport for everyone” into what’s essentially a dick-measuring contest. It’s created an image in the public conscious that CrossFit is only for the elite athletes, and people are reluctant to join CrossFit gyms in fear of feeling insecure and inadequate.

It’s one of the criticisms of CrossFit that I agree with. Though any sort of competition is interesting, the Games are indeed intimidating, and it alienates those of us who train to stay in shape and look good, not to be the most physically superior badass on the planet.

However, the Games is not a reflection of CrossFit programming as a whole or of individual gyms. It’s just a constituent of the CrossFit Corporation, and people can easily choose to ignore it. I’ve been a CrossFitter for 18 months, and I’ve passed up the chance to enter the CrossFit Open twice now. I train to keep myself looking and feeling good; I’m not out to take the title. The Games do not affect me or my training; it’s optional.

It is a problem, though, that the uninitiated seem to think that CrossFit isn’t for everyone directly because of the Games. The folks at CrossFit, Inc. could try to help this, but they don’t want to. They’re successful enough.

And this brings us to the next big thing: the key players of CrossFit, Inc. are dicks.

You see, the biggest criticism that CrossFit cops is that it doesn’t focus on technique; that people work out with poor form, leading to injuries. Apparently the mantra is “lift as heavy as possible, don’t worry about shit form.”

It’s a valid criticism, but why is it, then, that my CrossFit gym are so focused on technique and form? In fact, 5-10 minutes of each 60-minute class is used to go through and practice proper form. If you cannot perform the exercise with good form, you scale back the weight until your form is acceptable. My deadlifting was less than perfect this week, so I scaled back to a demoralising 60kg, to allow me to concentrate on keeping a straight back and doing the lift properly. For the conditioning workout, there is an option at my gym to use a light stick as opposed to a barbell with weight, allowing newcomers to ensure they do the movement properly.

I’ve been to a number of CrossFit gyms, and every single one of them have emphasised technique over heavy weight.

So why is it, then, that CrossFit still gets this criticism?

Well, it’s simple: as I said before, the dudes running CrossFit are a bunch of dicks.

While some CrossFit gyms are determined to uphold form, some gyms do not. Some gyms do adhere to the idiotic “lift heavy with shit form” mantra, giving CrossFit a bad name.

You see, all it takes to become certified as a CrossFit coach, is one weekend workshop. That’s all. Two days of tests, after which you are free to open your own CrossFit gym and be a head coach. A number of CrossFit certified trainers, therefore, are terrible coaches, leading to injuries because of teaching improper form or not focusing on form at all. But they can do that, because nobody is there to stop them. Indeed, CrossFit, Inc. is a corporation and they’re all about the money. They do not feel the need to quality-control the gyms, because they’re money-hungry dicks. They’re happy with their growth and don’t want to shut any gyms down, because the gyms are paying them a flat rate every year in order to be a CrossFit affiliate. For that, they deserve every bit of scorn that they get.

All it would take to fix this little issue would be fully-qualified inspectors checking out every CrossFit gym around the world at least once a year, and if they are giving CrossFit a bad name, either give them a warning or shut them down.

So in the end, CrossFit as a whole is flawed, but it all depends on the individual CrossFit gym. I know of several excellent CrossFit gyms that I recommend to people, but obviously there are some gyms out there that need to be stopped. By bashing CrossFit as a whole for “teaching bad form,” you look like a pathetically ignorant dick, and you’re just as bad as any inept coach.

Mention must also be made of the bodybuilding community, who consider CrossFit a laughing stock. They criticise poor form, but really, regular everyday weightlifters don’t have a coach with them, and could easily be performing with terrible technique. Lifting with unqualified friends who don’t know proper form is very dangerous, even more so than a bad CrossFit coach. And what of the people who’ve never lifted before, who walk into a gym and start to lift for the first time? They don’t know proper form, and will probably hurt themselves.

With the proper coaches, CrossFit is a godsend. When I started CrossFit, I performed every exercise with poor form, and could not squat. 18 months later, I’m performing most lifts with spot-on form after having learned the proper technique, and the coaches have given me stretches and exercises to improve my squatting. I’ve also learned more about good nutrition than I ever have before. More than that, my CrossFit gym is full of friends. It’s a brilliant community of like-minded people from every walk of life. There’s no elitism in my gym, everyone is an equal. There’s no way I’m ever going to want to return to a regular weightlifting regimen, performed by myself in a gym full of elitist snobs and groups of people I don’t know.

Anyone reading this can try CrossFit. It’s just a matter of picking the right gym.

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