A Crossfit skeptic finds three silver linings to the movement

Not the best looking form, but I admire their enthusiasm.

Not the best looking form, but I admire their enthusiasm.

This is one of those posts that’s not going to make anyone very happy. But here it is: Despite everything I don’t like about Crossfit, I have to admit some small level of grudging appreciation for a fitness movement that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

I say this just a few days removed from doing a trail run with some friends, then getting to the trailhead and seeing about 60 people around a park pavilion, wrapping up a Thanksgiving family-oriented get-together with some exercise, and then food and drink afterward. I’ll get more in that subject later in this post. But first, a few qualifiers.

As I said, I’m not a Crossfit fan. I don’t like the fact that it takes basically three days and $1,000 to become certified to the point where you can open your own gym. I don’t like workout plans that have you perform very technical, difficult lifts as many times as you can within a specific time range. Constant variation/muscle confusion is overrated. And don’t get me started on kipping pull-ups. Just no. At its best, I can see where some people could physically benefit from Crossfit, but only to a point. At worst, I foresee injuries. Lots of injuries. They happen to the best Olympic lifters who are coached correctly; how much worse is it going to be for a novice lifter jacking up 20 straight clean-and-presses in 90 seconds? Lots.

But there are some things that I have to reluctantly acknowledge as positives. Seeing I’ve put Crossfit on blast a few times, it’s time for this skeptic to give it its due.

Crossfit has introduced lots of people to weightlifting. And by weightlifting, I mean using barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells, not those pin-and-plate machines too many people are fruitlessly playing around on in their local fitness centers. People are deadlifting, squatting, and cleaning barbells in Crossfit gyms (I refuse to call them “boxes”) across the country. The quality of coaching may be all over the place, and the method in which they’re used can be suspect. But you have to think some crossfitters will take the time to learn how to do Olympic and power lifts right, or even better, that their coaches will teach them right. And if not, the exposure to good lifts will eventually lead them to correct form, usage and eventually, real gains. No matter who you are, you can benefit from lifting heavy things. Book it.

Crossfit had drawn a lot of people into fitness who otherwise are not responsive to other popular forms of exercise. Not everyone is a runner, an MMA fighter, a cyclist or whatever. Many exercisers just aren’t interested in aerobics classes, spin sessions or other forms of group exercise formats that are common in most gyms. But Crossfit bills itself as a system that prepared people with functional fitness, one that gives you strength to prepare you for whatever physical needs the world might throw your way. Whether or not that’s actually true, that selling point appeals to a lot of people in a way that’s different than a step aerobics class. The result: More people trying to get fit. I may not like the method, but it’s still a gateway that just could take otherwise out-of-shape people and set them on a path that could get them healthier. Eventually. Maybe.

Crossfit does a remarkable — one might say outstanding — job at giving fitness-minded people a sense of community. Last Thursday, me and two other fellas went on a 5-mile trail run. I saw another small group of trail runners and a couple of hikers, too. But at the trailhead, 60 or more crossfitters and their kids were getting in a group workout and some fellowship time afterward. Did I mention this was on Thanksgiving Day? That gym must have one heck of a bond with its members to drag them out to a park on a holiday morning (and it was 30 degrees!) where most people are focused on their home life. Crossfit gyms do a pretty decent job at building camaraderie among exercisers. They encourage each other during workouts, and use their common bond to create friendships and accountability that’s almost impossible to find at other gyms. Now it can get a little weird — the goofy insider terminology, the incessant talking about Crossfit, and even the semi-cultish defensiveness about the whole thing — but you can’t deny the fact that there is power within a group, and exercisers are more likely to achieve their fitness goals or even surpass them when they have positive voices in their ear.

So there it is. I try to be fair-minded when evaluating things like this and not just endlessly bag on something I don’t like without taking a harder look. I still won’t do Crossfit, nor would I ever recommend someone get into it. Or at least not until the movement reforms itself to something safer and more sustainable. I just see too many problems in the things crossfitters commonly do, and far too much butt-hurt in the Crossfit community when its weaknesses are called out. But as I’ve often seen throughout my life, silver linings abound. Even for Crossfit.

Bob Doucette

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