In the general bodybuilding community, CrossFit is often the butt of the joke. It’s associated with luminous Reebok clad enthusiasts chalking up to do kipping ‘not real’ pull ups and then throwing ‘heavier than they look’ bumper plates on a barbell, and sketchily getting it over their heads. All of this is done under a time limit, that makes the questionable form of the lifting become more of an issue as the budding CrossFitter tires out.
The memes and jokes fly around and I often get asked. “What do you think of CrossFit?”
Most of it is false, and some of it is partially true.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
My background lies in bodybuilding and I have trained in independent bodybuilding gyms all of my life, with the exception of a year training at a David Lloyd that I worked at (where I met my business partner Scott). The less said about that in terms of my training, the better. As soon as a convenient alternative became available - I joined and never looked back.
That been said, through BearWolf I have been given a in depth inside on CrossFit. Working with Scott initially out of P360 in Crystal Palace and currently at CrossFit Purley. I have watched many classes, taken part in workouts and interacted with many CrossFitters, many of whom I coach.
WHAT IS CROSSFIT?
First off, for those that don’t know what CrossFit is. I would personally define it as follows (I would appreciate any CrossFitter to correct me if I’m wrong)
CrossFit develops total fitness through a combination of training methods that are typically, though not exclusively, delivered through group classes.
Total Fitness being elements such as Strength, Speed, Power, Stamina, Accuracy, Balance, Co-ordination and Agility.
Training methods including components from gymnastics, olympic lifting, powerlifting etc.
"PEOPLE THAT DO CROSSFIT CAN'T LIFT PROPERLY"
From the examples of the two CrossFit gyms I have seen, I have never watched people lift weight under horrible form in a dangerous way that exceeds the associated risks of lifting weights in general. In fact, I have undoubtedly seen far more things that make me wince and shudder in both the independent bodybuilding gyms and particularly at the David Lloyd.
I don’t doubt that back breaking form at cringe worthy weights happens in some CrossFit gyms, you only need to do a google search and you will see evidence to support it, but its non-existent in the CrossFit classes that I have witnessed. The difference is in the coaching.
If anyone has met Scott, he would be the first to admit he isn’t very tolerant of bullshit and has very specific standards. If you are doing it wrong or the weight is too heavy, he will say - simple as. This is reflected in the performance of those that attend the classes he oversees. Be it the progression through a clients ability, the coaches standards and just the general attitude in the gyms. I think that this is the crucial difference.
If the coaching is crap, then why would the performance of those under the coaching be any different?
This doesn’t apply to just CrossFit, but every coachable skill ever.
To generalise all of CrossFit through examples of bad coaching is irrational as I could throw a stone in plenty of gyms and hit a personal trainer that can’t demonstrate, let alone coach, a proper press up. Does that mean all personal trainers are crap or that press ups are ineffective? - of course not.
"IT DOESN'T WORK"
I think another element to consider are the intentions of CrossFit. It is very much focussed towards a broad number of components of fitness. It is not the most effective method to build muscle, nor does it claim to be. Those that do, are just plain wrong. Knocking CrossFit for not building big biceps at the rate of bodybuilding is like having a go at bodybuilding at not being effective as powerlifting in developing your deadlift 1RM. Thats not to say, you can’t build big biceps doing CrossFit, or that you can’t improve your deadlift 1RM with bodybuilding - its just there are more focussed and efficient ways to do so.
This filters down to the poor form that people often point out during the CrossFit games, where you watch the best of the best perform exercises in a sometime questionable fashion. First, you need to identify what they are trying to achieve. Most often its because they are trying to complete a set amount of work as fast as they possibly can. They don’t get bonus points for strict form, so why slow themselves down? Safety? Im sure that all of the athletes in the games are more than aware of the associated risks of letting their form loosen up and are happy to take that risk for the potential reward. First and foremost they prioritise efficiency in completing the standards set forth. Should that be the case for someone that isn’t world class and not competing in the biggest event of their discipline? Probably not! If you can beat the CrossFit elite athletes at their own game, without prioritising efficiency, then there is a lot of prize money waiting for you!
Perhaps if people understood that other people have separate goals and aims, then they would be more content with letting people go and get on with them?
Its the primary reason that my own training wouldn’t be considered ‘CrossFit’. I enjoy and am experienced in the way I train and I have the knowledge to program my training to specifically get exactly what I want from my training. That been said, I borrow elements of CrossFit in both my own training and that of my clients, much in the same way I borrow from other trying methods. I apply any given method or approach to those that would benefit from it at that particular time. Thats what CrossFit does pretty well, as the fitness outcomes are varied, and therefor the approach must also be. Under a well structured plan (like those I have experienced) the members measure progress and the workouts can be scaled to get the appropriate/ desired response to the individuals. This is no easy feat, particularly when you consider that these workouts are delivered in group classes. Perhaps that makes it rare to find? I would have to go to more CrossFit gyms to be able to answer that.
Probably my favourite element of CrossFit is the comraderie. Its rare to step into a gym where everyone is willing everyone else to do well. The focus is on the task at hand, so there's no texting between sets and people are generally more respectful of the other members than in most gyms. I have and have had awesome training partners and staff members that motivate and push me. Never the entire gym all at once willing me to go bigger, stronger, faster! Its very cool to watch.
ARE ANY OF THE BODYBUILDERS PERCEPTIONS TRUE?
- Yes there are a lot of luminous clothing.
- Yes a lot of it is Reebok.
Its not particularly shocking, considering that CrossFit, like the UFC, is sponsored by Reebok. They make clothes to CrossFit in, so people are going to wear them! I myself own a pair of CrossFit Nano trainers, aside from looking pretty cool:
a.) because as a PT, Reebok give me 25% discount.
b.) They are good for lifting weights in.
c.) They are durable.
If the clothes that people wear to the gym upset you, then you should probably relax a little.
I also share the feeling that kipping pull-ups are not actually pull-ups, but are more accurately ‘Chin over bars’. As a caveat to that, you need to look at what I mentioned before about the intentions of Crossfit. Kipping is often used to get a metabolic response. Its faster, more efficient and you can do more. Therefore it makes them more effective in burning calories and facilitating the aim of improving cardiovascular fitness and firing up your metabolic rate.
They do look pretty silly though!
SHOULD I DO IT THEN?
I’d certainly recommend you give it a try! Like I say, the community is fantastic, making it likely that there will be an environment that you enjoy training in. That’s a vital component in being consistent and showing up. The wide range of skills and fitness you can achieve doing CrossFit means that there is a bit of something for everyone, and even in the worst case scenario that you didn’t enjoy it, you would likely have a better understanding of a method that you would enjoy.
I can’t account for every CrossFit gym, as I have only been to one, albeit frequently in the last 12 months. CrossFit Purley is undoubtedly a high quality place where I truly believe that you would benefit from even the 7 day free trial that they offer. Its why BearWolf is proud to be associated with everyone there. Give it a go and let us know what you think.
If you partake in CrossFit and agree or disagree with anything I have said, let me know. My opinions aren’t carved in stone and I’m more than happy to learn and understand more.