Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why You Need To Pay Attention To CrossFit

CrossFit has been a hot topic for the last few years and will continue to be. Followers of the trend are zealous about their training and detractors go to great lengths to discredit the system and those who practice it.

Let me state that I do not "do" CrossFit. I have enjoyed done floundered my way through a few WOD's and just don't like that "redline" feeling that I get from them. I love training and lifting, but don't get anything out of pushing myself to that limit metabolically during a workout. With that being said, I have a bunch of friends who train CrossFit and two very close friends who manage different CrossFit Gyms (Dan and Brett). Both of those guys come from traditional (dare I say, elite) Strength and Conditioning backgrounds and have found a love and appreciation for CrossFit.

I've also made a bunch of good contacts in the online strength and conditioning community and have noticed (as you all have as well) a huge contingent of people who think that CrossFit is the devil. Literally Satan himself. Even something as tragic as the Kevin Ogar injury was being blamed on the CrossFit "system" of training (and other factors), which I don't really agree with.

I've got a pretty varied background: I interned with a D1 S&C program at BU, I've been more or less mentored by Tony Gentilcore, the co-owner of one of the most highly respected private strength and conditioning facilities in the country, I've coached classes in CrossFit gyms and I now train exclusively as an olympic weightlifter. It was during a conversation a few months ago with a colleague when I mentioned something about a CrossFit athlete and was met with the response "I don't pay attention to CrossFit".

That's when I started thinking about this post. So many people in traditional strength and conditioning are still dismissing CrossFit as a fad or some bullshit training system like P90X. Tony recently wrote a post about how strength training existed before CrossFit, and I know what he's saying. Just because you're holding a barbell or breathing hard doesn't make it CrossFit. When you've dedicated your career to something and people can't recognize it for what it is, it will be frustrating.

Things Have Changed

But for any strength coach or personal trainer out there to still be dismissing CrossFit or thinking it's some bullshit training system needs to remove their head from their anus ASAP. It's difficult to not acknowledge the growth that CrossFit has seen since it's inception. What was once someone blindly following the mainsite programming (which was mainly just WOD's) on a daily basis at home has become people going to their gyms and working with coaches on programming that creates better movement and progressive overload designed to work on weak points and get people stronger.

I have no idea what the actual numbers are, but tens of thousands of people are heading to CF gyms on a daily basis and working hard doing the things that we preach: mobility, compound movements, sprinting. Shit, there are a ton of random people who sit at desks all day who can do freestanding handstands, a movement that I can't do. People also love to bash on the coaches and how anyone who has a thousand bucks and a weekend can become a CrossFit level 1 coach...but that's true of any certification. You can become a CSCS and USAW level 1 coach without having an Exercise Science degree or being able to do the movements you're going to be coaching. But, I know a bunch of CrossFit coaches with credentials such as: BS in Strength and Conditioning,  BS in Kinesiology, MS in Exercise Physiology, CSCS, ACSM HFI, USAW, PICP, in PT school  and more. Gone are the days of gyms filled with coaches who were good at CrossFit but couldn't tell their ass from their acetabulum. CrossFit has attracted some serious coaches with serious backgrounds and they are doing great things.

The Greater Effect

It's easy to look at the "global" level of CrossFit and say "ok, those athletes look amazing and perform well but they are pro athletes". Sure, Froning and Khalipa and Thorisdottir look, perform and train like pro athletes because that's what they are. But when the Regionals happen this spring, go to your local event and tell me how those athletes look to you. Many (most?) of them are regular 9-5'ers who have to work their training schedule around their regular lives; work, school and family. Look at the levels of performance these men and women have achieved and tell me if you think CrossFit is still a joke.

You can now take it a level beneath that as well; go walk into one of the local CrossFit gyms in your area (be fair, don't go to the shitty new one with 3 members, but also don't go to the giant one with 450 members) and watch a class. Well, most gyms won't really let you do that, so let me tell you what you're going to see in there. You're going to see a bunch of regular people, people you'd normally see on the elliptical, starting their workout with a dynamic warm-up. Then you'll see them get their hands on a barbell and do some compound movements; true, you're going to see varying levels of proficiency, but that's not different than people you'd see in a normal commercial gym or even a varsity weight room (trust me, I've seen people training in both with technique that made my soul weep). You'll even see these people get into their WOD and push themselves pretty damn hard. Again, form can get a little dicey here, but if the coaches are good then nobody will be using a weight for a lift that they can't handle. I've coached classes and we were more than happy to tell someone mid-WOD to lower the weight or regress the exercise for them. These people are seeing changes in droves: weight loss, muscle gain, improvement in movement quality. The coaches are doing something right. Also, not everyone who tries CrossFit is going to love it! There will be people who don't like pushing themselves to the "redline", or don't like the group setting or the CrossFit Bro's in snapbacks and Vibrams. These people will find the right trainers/coaches for themselves.

One of the downsides of traditional strength and conditioning is that it's not exactly "accessible". In the greater Boston area I can only think of a handful of legit places (CP in Hudson, TPS in Everett, Ranfone Training in CT which is a few hours away...someone remind me if I'm missing any) where someone can get hands-on with a real strength and conditioning coach. Sure, you can do distance coaching via email but it's not exactly the same. Civilians can't get access to collegiate weight rooms/coaches, so you're left to roll the dice with commercial gyms and personal trainers. Meanwhile I think I counted 25 CrossFit gyms within 10 miles of downtown Boston. Strength coaches love to tell you to see a qualified strength coach...but there isn't one standing on every street corner.

What I'm Saying

No, I'm not suggesting that all personal trainers and strength coaches run out and get jobs at CF gyms or get their level 1 certifications. Nor am I suggesting that CF is the king of training systems. But CrossFit has introduced barbell training, and metabolic conditioning and the simple concept of movement quality to the masses. The things most Americans know about fitness are The Biggest Loser and The CrossFit games, we can't change that. The CrossFit system of training is no longer the clusterfuck that it used to be; there are tons of (over)qualified coaches out there applying the same good ol' fashioned strength and conditioning practices to their gyms that any S&C coach would be happy to have in their weightroom.

Rather than bash CrossFit and those who adhere to it, I suggest we all acknowledge the impact it has had on the greater good and find out how to translate their success into our success. Isn't that what we all want anyway? For people to get off of the treadmills and arc trainers and start lifting weights and moving like we are supposed to. Or do we only want them to do that within the walls of our own facilities?

If you disagree with me, that's fine. That doesn't make either one of us an asshole or a bad person. It just means we disagree. Let me know what you think.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit.


  1. Well said Mike, Id also chime in that I'd be happy to further the discussion of how S&C can be integrated into crossfit and the one big area in my opinion that most most crossfits lack, that we are trying to work on... assessment

  2. Danny you are a scholar and a gentleman. The assessment piece is one that is clearly left out of CF and is on an affiliate by affiliate basis. I truly think that, while the FMS is fantastic for athletes, it leaves something to be desired. There's not a ton of regular joe's who can walk in off the street and get anything besides 1's on most of those tests.

  3. Thank you! I have my CrossFit Level 1, but am also a college senior studying for my ATC and CSCS certification and I run into these types of conversations all the time. I love CrossFit as a sport but also the potential it has for people and it can get very wearing on me when I constantly have to filter the nonsense. Glad someone said it finally!

    1. As a recent grad I understand 100% the struggles of going through courses, studying for the CSCS and learning things that are actually useful outside of the classroom. Trying to explain things to classmates or teachers who don't "get it" get's old fast. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for commenting.

  4. Excellent article and thanks for the balanced review. I own two CrossFit Affiliates and it is a constant struggle to let people know that CrossFit owns no patents on how the body works, we just try to be the best at GPP that we can be. I use a progressive overload strength program on the major lifts (less bench press than shoulder press) along with varied time domain met cons (sprint, lactic intervals, etc.) and preach quality over everything and it's still an uphill battle. Being in CrossFit culture since 2006 I can tell you that the mindset has changed from the inside out as a result of the affiliate model that Glassman started. The cream is rising and the best boxes are the ones where the trainers and owners get outside of 3, 2, 1 go and apply the full spectrum of S&C principles to their programming. Cheers and happy training -
    Matt DiMarco
    CrossFit Manitowoc, CrossFit Eastern Ridge, Wisconsin

    1. Thanks for the comment Matt. The fact that CF mindset has changed quite a bit is continually lost on the rest of the fitness world who refuses to acknowledge that (although, some of the absurd Open workouts don't help haha). All you can do is keep fighting the good fight and wait for the crappy boxes to fade away. Keep up the good work, and I hope you enjoy the rest of my blog.

  5. Hi Mike! Very nice post. Balanced perspective. While I respectfully disagree with your take on CrossFit.com training ca. 2006 and on (I did my first WOD in a commercial gym 1-1-06), there has indeed been a significant shift in CrossFit training brought about by the Affiliate model (I now train in my son's Box). Integrating strength training in addition to classic GPP is one of those changes we've seen (full disclosure: Jeff Martin and I published the CrossFit Strength Bias program). In the end the important thing, as you clearly state, is that regular folks get up off the couch and begin to move and move well.

    Thanks for a very nice take on our shared world.