In case you’ve been hiding under a fitness rock for the last several years, Crossfit is a popular training style built around a “Workout of the Day” (WOD), published daily on the Crossfit site. The workouts of the day are named, usually after women for some reason, and tend to be completely different day to day. Check out the site and read the last week or so of workouts to get an idea of what they look like. Here’s an example WOD from this week:
Complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of:
225 pound Deadlift, 6 reps
7 Burpee pull-ups
10 Kettlebell swings, 2 pood
Run 200 meters
Crossfit has come under tremendous criticism from the many in the fitness community for various reasons, but it remains very popular. So let’s talk Pros and Cons.
Crossfit: The Good
- People like it – This is huge. Lots of people really enjoy Crossfit, which leads to several additional benefits.
- Adherence - No program is effective if you don’t stick with it, so getting great adherence is a big win for Crossfit.
- Effort - People who like Crossfit style training tend to work out balls to the wall. Effort goes a long way in any fitness program.
- Variety - The variety of the workouts plays into the above in a huge way. Because you almost never do the same thing twice, you (theoretically) don’t burn out on any one style of training. The variety of training also leads to…
- General Physical Preparedness – The goal of Crossfit workouts is to make you well rounded. Not huge, not super ripped, not super strong, not super fast. But pretty big, pretty strong, and pretty fast. According to Crossfit – “Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.” For this reason, Crossfit is quite popular among law enforcement and military personnel. Come to think of it, “well rounded fitness” sounds pretty good to a lot of people.
- Hot Girls- Crossfit girls have a reputation for being extremely hot. I am tempted to call this correlation, rather than causation, but I can’t deny it altogether. The best explanation – lifting makes girls hot, and crossfit makes girls lift. Big win.
Crossfit: The Bad (and Ugly)
- Seemingly random programming – The workouts of the day bounce around in a seemingly random fashion. Per strength coach Alwyn Cosgrove: “Another one was 30 muscle-ups. And if you can’t do muscle-ups, do 120 pull-ups and 120 dips. It’s just random; it makes no sense. Two days later the program was five sets of five in the push jerk with max loads. That’s not looking too healthy for the shoulder joint if you just did 120 dips 48 hours ago.” Hello, injury.
- Dangerous loading protocols – As an example, one workout of the day required 30 reps of the power snatch at 135 lbs. The snatch is an explosive Olympic lift, which I would never program for over 5 or 6 reps per set due to the technical complexity involved. It’s just too hard to maintain your form past that point. Likewise, the above 6 reps of 225 lb deadlifts is out of reach for many. Hello again, injury.
- Lack of progression – Due to the “never repeating” nature of the programming, it is difficult, if not impossible to track progress in major lifts. How do I know my strength or speed is improving if I never repeat a protocol? Most strength coaches and trainers agree that some form of measurable progressive overload is crucial.
- Difficult personalization – While Crossfit claims its workouts are highly personalize-able, the resources for people unable to perform the standard WOD are slim. In fact, the Crossfit FAQ explicitly states that only those with “exposure to Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and gymnastics” should attempt the WOD right away. Really? Who has that kind of experience? They say they are working on an exercise substitution list, but it doesn’t appear to be available. The truth is, no single workout of the day could possibly address the needs of all (or even most) people effectively or safely. The amount of customization required basically results in entirely different workouts.
- Efficiency – While it may be fine for already-fit police officers looking to get more fit, the Crossfit workouts of the day are not the most efficient ways to reach most goals like fat loss, muscle growth, maximum strength, or maximum speed.
Crossfit is a pretty good protocol for certain people, specifically people who are already quite fit and looking to improve their all-around fitness and performance: some strength, some speed, some muscle, some fat loss. If you are that person, get after it. However, anyone focusing on one or two goals specifically, or anyone who is not already pretty advanced in the gym, would do better looking to programs more specifically tailored to his or her goals and skill levels.
I am aware that Crossfit now has a large contingent of personal trainers and coaches, some of whom are no doubt very good at tailoring the Crossfit style of training to other skill levels. This may be a fine option for someone who is more of a beginner. I have never trained with a Crossfit coach. The straight workout of the day, however, which is what most “Crossfitters” train by, is inappropriate for anyone who is not fairly advanced.
In conclusion, I have no hate for Crossfit. It just isn’t for everyone. I know several strong, fit guys who train Crossfit style, and I have a lot of respect for their choice. I don’t train Crossfit, because I don’t care about being able to run a 5k or an obstacle course. At least not today.