Fitness: When Crossfit goes horribly wrong

The one thing that I love about the world of fitness is that people are always innovating, trying new things to help people become more fit and active. We need that sort of innovation so badly.

What I also like is that these types of innovations draw new people into active lifestyles. We need more of that!

But there are times when half-cocked instruction meets amateur exercisers, and this is where things can go terribly wrong. Fitness “students” trust their instructors to show them how to properly perform an exercise, and when that doesn’t happen, people overestimate their abilities, build bad habits and rarely achieve the results their looking for.

Worse yet, people get injured.

Crossfit is a fast-growing and effective exercise phenomenon that has become very popular. It combines high-intensity cardio work, weightlifting (sometimes Olympic-style) body-weight work and other exercises all done in a way that taxes the muscles and cardiovascular system of the person who is doing it. It’s become so big that there are actually televised Crossfit competitions on ESPN.

But I have a serious problem with people who are being incorrectly coached on exercise technique, particularly when it comes to Olympic-style lifts such as cleans, snatches, clean-and-jerks and deadlifts. These are great lifts, but they aren’t as simple as a bench press or weightlifting machines. They are very technique-driven, and breaking form can be injurious.

When I saw the video below, I thought it had to be a joke. But it’s not. These people were serious. And the form exhibited — and encouraged by trainers — was seriously bad.

This is the text accompanying the video, which describes is thusly:

Taken from an event with veteran CrossFit athletes. Hitting axle clean and jerks. Supervised by Strongman Certified Coaches. Axle weight is about 10-15lbs. This lift is not a standard Clean and Jerk.

“Veteran” atheltes? “Certified” coaches? All this experience and training led to this?

Notice the incorrect initial grip. It’s fine for a standard deadlift, but not a clean. And then there’s the fumbling around with the weight on the hip, back twisted back awkwardly as the lifter readjusts to a proper grip (it looks like they’re playing bass guitar in a rock band!). And the overall bad form that barely uses the true driver of power on the lift — the legs.

How in the world did these people not seriously tear up their backs?

Here is a video of a properly executed “axle clean and jerk.”

Proper grip, proper form, good use of the legs. Yep, that’s how it’s done.

My hope is that somewhere along the way, the exercisers in the first video can achieve their fitness goals and gain self-confidence while also learning good form. Here’s also hoping that this is not the direction Crossfit is going. Encouraging poor form and performance will only lead to injury and disappointment, and that is a failure on the part of the coaches and a disservice to the trainees.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088