Is Crossfit For You?
by David Lasnier, BSc, CSCS, USAW
Let’s be honest for a second here; if you’ve never heard of Crossfit, you’re probably living under a rock! Crossfit has been the trendiest fitness system in the world for the past few years. A ton of ex-athletes, weekend warriors, and soccer moms worldwide jump right into this grueling, unapologetic style of training with the hopes of not only reaching their fitness goals, but also feeling challenged, having a sense of community, and getting their butt kicked!
So here’s the big question, is CrossFit for you? To answer this, let’s first dive into some preliminary questions, such as: is CrossFit the real deal when it comes to fitness or another trend? Is it for everyone? Will it destroy your body and leave you vulnerable for injuries? Can it be a platform to reach optimum fitness levels?
As with most things in life, these answers aren’t black or white. You really have to analyze the pros and cons, and then judge whether it’s an appropriate training modality for you.
Your Background Matters
An honest assessment of your personal fitness level is imperative before starting a CrossFit program. Are you an ex-athlete? Do you have experience with Olympic lifts? Have you worked with a certified strength and conditioning specialist in the past? Have you ever trained using high intensity intervals? If your answer is no to the above questions, it doesn't necessarily mean that CrossFit is not right for you, but it would probably be a very bad idea for an individual who has been inactive for the past few years to get off the couch and jump right into it. Crossfit is a very high intensity, high volume training method that is sure to greatly increase your risk of injury if you jump into it unprepared. The Crossfit athletes we see on TV and on the Internet are capable of accomplishing some pretty impressive feats of fitness for sure, but keep one thing in mind: Crossfit is first and foremost A SPORT. Basically this means that high level Crossfit athletes didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to throw themselves into super intense WODs (Workout of the Day, as Crossfit calls it) with no background in any sort of training. This means that if Crossfit is something that really appeals to you, you need to prepare your body for it. The better CrossFit boxes do offer beginner classes with a large focus on learning the movement patterns and perfecting the basics of the complex olympic lifts before allowing you to jump in with an actual CrossFit WOD. The foundation of Crossfit, learning and perfecting the Olympic lifts, core gymnastics movements, and developing a solid conditioning base of both the aerobic and anaerobic systems will certainly improve your health and physique.
An often overlooked consideration when deciding if CrossFit is injury history. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t jump into Crossfit if you have any type of chronic injury. If you have low back, knee, or shoulder issues, Crossfit will likely magnify the issues rather than provide a fix. Ideally, you should see a quality physical therapist or sports chiropractor to fix your issues first, then consider if Crossfit is an option for you afterward. If you have a debilitating injury or permanent damage to a joint that can’t be fixed, unfortunately Crossfit might not be for you.
Not All Crossfit Boxes and Coaches Are Created Equal
When you do decide to get started on Crossfit, where and how you begin matters A LOT. You can’t just throw yourself 100% in, right away. Remember that your body needs time to adapt to a new training stimulus, so volume and intensity must be increased gradually. That’s why it is crucial that you get coaching from experienced trainers/coaches that understand everything mentioned above.
Not all Crossfit boxes are created equal. Unfortunately, the established standards to get certified in Crossfit as a coach and to label your gym as a Crossfit affiliate are not very high, and therefore the quality among coaches and boxes will vary greatly. The better boxes will work to understand what your background is prior to beginning, assess your injury history, and how to properly scale and adapt workouts for both beginners and experienced ex-athletes. Quality coaches should also spend time during every class teaching you, helping you to master the more complex movements (squats, deadlifts, Olympic lifts, thrusters, etc). Inquire about that when you’re shopping around, even if you have a ton of experience, everyone needs continuous coaching. If the coaches at the gym don’t take into account any of the above, find a better affiliate! They most certainly exist! Scaling and adjusting workouts properly for each individual might be THE most important thing when starting Crossfit. Do not underestimate that, it will save you from a lot of unnecessary aches, pains, and injuries.
The Social Aspect of Crossfit
With all that being said, I understand why Crossfit is so popular and why it might appeal to you. Even though a lot of fitness professionals out there are quick to bash Crossfit as a training discipline, I do think there are many good things about it, if done properly of course.
The community aspect is one that needs not to be overlooked. A lot of people look for that sense of community when trying to be fit and active. Not everyone likes to go to the gym with their headphones on and go about their business following their own personal program. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but there are people looking for more of a social aspect to training.
The competitive aspect of it might also appeal to ex-athletes or just competitive people in general. The one loophole with that is that you need to be careful about how much value you give to the competition aspect working out. Meaning, it should never come at the expense of proper form and execution of your exercises. If you’re botching your reps or cutting short on range of motion to shave a few seconds off your WOD, that’s a sign that you need to scale back on the competition side of it. Remember that you’re supposed to do this to better your physical health first and foremost, not jeopardize it.
Putting It All Together
Finally, the biggest advantage of Crossfit is that it encompasses multiple disciplines (powerlifting, Olympic lifting, running, jumping, gymnastics, etc), and it incorporates a wide variety of movements in a challenging, yet fun, environment. World-renowned physical therapist, Kelly Starrett, once said that being able to perfect a variety of complex movements (both loaded and unloaded) under fatigue is the ultimate display of fitness, and really, that’s where Crossfit is trying to take you. You just need to make sure that it’s appropriate for you, and you are doing it the right way by learning the movements first. Progressing at your own pace with the intensity and the volume of the workouts will help you achieve great results and have fun in the process.
So after reading this, what do you think? Is Crossfit for you or not?