Firstly, I have only been doing CrossFit for the past five months, so I certainly don’t pretend to know it all, or even to have a valid opinion. These thoughts are just my own personal observations as a fitness-fanatic, ex-professional gymnast, and a physiotherapist.
So here are three things I love (and don’t love) about CrossFit.
What I Love: The Competition
The greatest thing for me about CrossFit is the competition. By creating “The Games” (and thanks to some very clever marketing by Reebok) CrossFit has captured the imagination of participants and spectators alike. As a sport (and it is a sport) it has almost singlehandedly brought “functional fitness” to the forefront of the mainstream, which has now spilled over into almost every other fitness arena. As a gymnast, I find it incredibly exciting to see all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds in all sorts of settings ditching the traditional gym machines in favour of rope climbs, kettlebells, rings, tire flips, pull-ups, push-ups, burpees etc. And so for that, I thank CrossFit.
What I Don’t Love: The Rush
Unfortunately, in my opinion, CrossFit’s greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness. Because the sport is geared around competition, whether formal events or inherent in the WOD (workout of the day) concept, I find too often people are rushed into learning skills that are way beyond their capability. This is well acknowledged by CrossFitters themselves, who are always striving to teach correct and safe technique to newbies. However, while this remains critical, certain movement standards themselves that are built into the sport can be problematic. For example, I was a gymnast for more than twenty years, and not once in those years was I ever allowed to walk on my hands. Ever. A handstand is a skill designed to be held in a static position – that’s how you activate your core and ensure correct shoulder & body positioning. To walk in a handstand is to practice poor technique, and to risk injury. Now of course, in terms of competition, it’s a lot more entertaining to watch someone “running” on their hands across a field, then to watch someone standing still for less time. Similarly, as a gymnast I was always strongly discouraged against kipping pull-ups or muscle-ups. Now I don’t have a major problem with competing these moves, but what worries me is that people go straight from ‘no-handstand’ to ‘handstand-walking’, or can’t do a single strict pull-up but are already learning kipping technique. My advice is to SLOW DOWN and take the time to learn the basics before you advance any further.
What I love: The Community
I think one of the greatest aspects of CrossFit is the embedded sense of community and camaraderie that goes with it. CrossFit has successfully created a culture in their “boxes” (CrossFit training centres) where people feel like they BELONG – something that we are desperate for in our fragmented and community-starved world. When you join a “box” you join a family. People who know you, who cheer you on, who have your back, and who will push you to achieve things you would never have achieved on your own. After competing with my team in a recent competition, I honestly felt like I had gone to war with these people! We had literally bled together, and it has brought us closer as human beings. This is the power of community, and it explains why CrossFitters will defend their sport and their box with passion.
What I Don’t Love: The Exclusivity
Sometimes unfortunately, because of the strong sense of connection and affiliation with one’s particular box, I have found that their can be some really unhealthy rivalry within the CrossFit community. I’m not talking healthy competitiveness between boxes – I’m talking nasty, backstabbing, gossiping nonsense that goes on far too much. Of course, CrossFit is not the problem here, it’s people that are the problem. But what it creates is an exclusive, cliquey culture that is extremely off-putting to a person who is genuinely looking into starting the sport. Personally I would love to see more collaboration between boxes, and opportunities for athletes to use multiple training avenues without feeling like they are “betraying” someone.
What I Love: The Challenge
If you’ve ever tried CrossFit (or any functional fitness training for that matter) you will know that it is TOUGH! When I first started using Kettlebells a few years ago I thought I was in pretty good shape and reasonably fit. Well… lets just say that for three days after my first workout I had to use specialised equipment to get on and off the toilet! Muscles I didn’t know I had hurt in places I’m embarrassed to mention. It was ugly. But I loved it! And I kept coming back for more. You see there is something almost addictive about pushing yourself to near-breaking point, and then realising you are stronger than you gave yourself credit for. It boosts your confidence and leaves you feeling energised! As the saying goes, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
What I Don’t Love: The Obsession
Of course, like any good thing, we as humans can take it to an unhealthy extreme. This is evident in any sport or pursuit. The compulsion to go too far too fast overwhelms us and we get enveloped in a world where we lose perspective on what really matters and what is most important. I see this tendency in myself, and I see it in the CrossFit community too. People who have drunk CrossFit “kool aid” and who will not listen to any advice or concerns or caution, or who have closed their minds off to any alternative form of training. They defend blindly, lash out defensively, and justify compulsively. My advice, which is really advice for myself, is to HAVE FUN and remember IT’S JUST A GAME. Actually it’s just exercise. 🙂