Only Training

Everything you wanted to know about CrossFit and maybe a little more.

Everything you wanted to know about CrossFit and maybe a little more.
Mitch Barnard competing at Crossfit Regionals
Mitch Barnard competing at the 2017 Crossfit Regionals
  • What is CrossFit? How is it different than a regular gym? When did it start? Who founded it?
  • About the founder, Greg Gassman. Elite competitions or the unfit masses? His legal battles, expansion plans and vision for a fitter world.
  • The CrossFit Community
  • Is CrossFit safe? Is there a CrossFit diet?
  • Coaching can be a problem. The rise of the online trainer. What can they do? How to pick one that works for you?
  • A brief summary of CrossFit speak

Is CrossFit a sport or a religion?

“CrossFit is a lifestyle characterized by safe, effective exercise and sound nutrition. CrossFit can be used to accomplish any goal, from improved health to weight loss to better performance. The program works for everyone—people who are just starting out and people who have trained for years.” - From the CrossFit main site. (1)

A secretive brawn-worshipping cult lead by fantastically-muscled athletes with impossibly chiselled movie-star bodies advocating dangerously intensive work-outs that lead inevitably to exhaustion, injury and even an excruciatingly painful death from something called rhabdomyolysis?

That’s how some critics, (and there are a few out there) might describe the CrossFit phenomenon.

CrossFit is popular, no doubt about that. And the CrossFit community can be enthusiastic, loyal, vocal, occasionally obsessive, and sometimes it sounds like they're speaking a different language, but c'mon, it’s not a cult.

CrossFit is both a physical exercise philosophy and a competitive fitness sport. It offers a carefully scripted fitness regime meant to develop strength, endurance, and flexibility through constantly varying exercises taken from a variety of disciplines such as weightlifting, powerlifting, and gymnastics. (2,3)

“Our speciality is not specializing," says Greg Glassman, the pugnacious (more about that later) former gymnast who founded the company.

(Whether CrossFit can be called a sport has been the subject of vigorous debate, but we won’t get into that.) (4,5,6)

How is it different than working out in a typical gym and what is a box, anyway?

“Each day the workout will test a different part of your functional strength or conditioning, not specializing in one particular thing, but rather with the goal of building a body that’s capable of practically anything and everything.” (7)

Okay, lesson number one in CrossFit speak. CrossFitters chase their PRs (personal records) at a ‘box’, doing a WOD (workout of the day). (One of the first things that confronts a newbie CrossFitter is the sport’s unique and extensive vocabulary.)

Boxes don’t have rows of fancy cardio and resistance machines with digital displays like a typical gym. They have the usual array of free weights but also sandbags and kettlebells, giant medicine balls, tractor tires and, plyo boxes. Gymnastics rings hang from the ceiling, as well as pull-up bars and climbing ropes. Rowing machines and skipping ropes provide a cardio workout. If you really need to run, you can use the neighborhood as your track.

Another big difference from a typical or ‘global’ gym is that CrossFitters aren’t in their own world performing their own personal routines. A WOD is a group event, involving assigned, intense exercises typically about five to 15 minutes long. One exercise follows right after the next, with very little rest in between.

A daily routine - including warmup, skills or strength-training, the WOD and then a cool-down and stretch - takes about an hour. (8) Casual CrossFitters are usually doing these WODs three to five times a week. The competitive CrossFit athlete will do many times that volume of exercise.

The WOD may be the same one posted daily on the web page or one designed by another CrossFit certified coach.

CrossFit Undefeated competing
CrossFit Undefeated Team Competing

Functional strength and conditioning

“Athletes often say that the workouts simulate the feeling at the end of a competitive event. Law-enforcement officers will describe a CrossFit workout as similar to a foot pursuit and fight with a suspect. Fighters will tell you that these Workouts of the Day are similar to the feeling of being in a fight.” (9)

CrossFit exercises involve the whole body. They include pushing, pulling, running, rowing, and squatting. They target what it calls the major components of physical fitness: cardiorespiratory fitness, stamina, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and accuracy. (10)

A typical box usually has a running clock and a whiteboard used for keeping scores. Each movement has a defined set of rules and standards. Repeatable, measurable results are key. There is a heavy emphasis on specific weights, specific distances, and specific movements over specific times. This allows for a clear measurement of performance. (11)

Although the WOD is the same for everyone, it is scalable to all ages, sizes, and abilities.

To summarize: CrossFit is a rapidly growing fitness regime focussing on strength, endurance and flexibility. Daily assigned workouts called WODs are taken from a variety of disciplines such as weightlifting, powerlifting, and gymnastics. The exercises are designed to improve a person's ability to perform the common physical tasks they encounter in everyday life with ease and without injury.

Where did it start and where is it going?

CrossFit was founded in 2000 by the husband and wife team (since divorced) of Glassman and Lauren Jenai. Glassman took out a loan to purchase his wife’s share of the company after the acrimonious and widely publicized split. (12)

The original CrossFit box is in Santa Cruz, California. You can watch one of the earliest routines on YouTube. (13) The first affiliated gym was CrossFit North in Seattle, Washington.

In 2005 there were 13 affiliated boxes. Today there are more than 14,000 around the world in more than 120 countries. Not only is CrossFit the largest fitness chain in the world, comparatively speaking, it’s also one of the largest and fastest-growing corporate chains. (14)

In 2015 Forbes estimated CrossFit’s value at $4 billion. (15) Greg Glassman’s net worth was estimated at more than $100 Million in 2009. (16)

From gym coach to fitness guru

Glassman started out as a gymnastics coach at a California Y.W.C.A. His classes became so popular he began doubling up. Even though he charged less, he made more money by having more people in the class. He realized, just as another fitness guru, Jane Fonda, realized decades earlier, that people enjoy working out together. Thus the idea for CrossFit was born. (17)

While CrossFit continues to expand in North America, Glassman has his eyes on an even bigger audience with expansion into China.

Myles Raposo at a local CrossFit Competition

Expanding into Asia

China's middle class is huge and growing. So is its $6 billion health and fitness market. The sportswear market is also booming. (18)

“I keep getting told this by experts on China and business and I take this with a grain of salt. They say, ‘China is different’ and if you don’t have an inside partner you won’t succeed. But I go there to talk to my affiliates and travel around with Liang Kong and it just doesn’t seem that different. I don’t see the different part, so maybe at the end, it jumps up and bites us ... I think it’s entirely possible that CrossFit’s simple aim of making people healthy is beneficial to all systems. Whether it’s Hong Kong or Macau or the rest of China,” Glassman said in a South China Morning Post Article. (19)

“We’re dealing fundamentally with a single-payer system and I don’t think the government wants the large numbers of ill, nor does it want to pay for it. And if you look at the CrossFit business model, there is nothing rapacious about what we are doing. The overwhelming majority of any money generated stays in the country, the businesses are independently owned and operated by Chinese, and the benefits accrue to those who participate. I would think that the government would not only support CrossFit but would have come up with it if it would have thought of it in the first place.”

To summarize: CrossFit was created by Greg Glassman in 2000. It has grown in popularity and today there are more than 14,000 CrossFit boxes around the world in more than 120 countries, including China. Not only is CrossFit one of the largest fitness chain in the world, but it’s also one of the largest and fastest-growing corporate chains.

Let the games begin

The Games change every year and oftentimes, the details are not announced until right before each event. Athletes train year-round for a competition that is almost completely a mystery. When they reach the Games, they put their training and mental fortitude to the test and take on a rigorous, broad-ranging test of overall physical capacity. At the close of competition, the Fittest on Earth™will have clearly distinguished themselves. (20)

The growing popularity of CrossFit is mirrored by the popularity of the annual Crossfit Games which has become a major sporting event sponsored by Crossfit Inc. and Reebok. The prize money awarded to each first-place male and female has increased from $500 at the inaugural Games to $300,000 for 2019.

The original competition in 2007 was a low key affair held in Aromas, California, on a small ranch owned by the family of Games director Dave Castro.

Originally the competition was open to any athlete who showed up. Qualifying competitions were instituted as the popularity of the games overwhelmed organizers.

Games involve athletes from around the world

The Regionals were replaced with CrossFit-sanctioned international qualifying events. As part of the changes, the 2019 games athletes qualify through being the top individual and team finishers from the sanctioned events, the top athlete from each country in the CrossFit Open, the top 20 overall finishers in the CrossFit Open, and up to four at-large athletes as chosen by CrossFit, Inc. Teams also no longer need to be created from one CrossFit-affiliated gym and could be formed from any four competitors. (21)

In 2018, there were only 32 different flags represented at the Games. In 2019, there were 114. (22)

Athletes at the Games compete in workouts they learn about hours or days beforehand, consisting mostly of an assortment of standard aerobic, weightlifting, and gymnastics movements, as well as some additional surprise elements that are not part of the typical CrossFit regimen such as obstacle courses, ocean swimming, softball throwing, or ascending a pegboard. (23)

Although the games continue to gain in popularity, Glassman has suggested that elite competitions are not his primary concern.

Getting the world healthy, one box at a time

Glassman insists that his main interest is not so much in competitions involving the strongest, most agile and fastest, but rather the millions of people around the world crippled with ailing health and limited mobility simply because of bad lifestyle choices. (24)

“CrossFit is a contrarian physiological and nutrition prescription for improving fitness and health. It is contrarian because prevailing views of fitness, health, and nutrition are wrong and have unleashed a tsunami of chronic disease upon our friends, family, and communities,” he wrote in an angry press release issued after yanking his company’s account from Facebook. His move was partially in response to the deletion of a Facebook group, Banting 7 Day Meal Plans. The group is unrelated to CrossFit but has 1.6 million members espousing the benefits of a low-carb, high-fat diet like CrossFit’s recommended nutritional regimen. (25)

“The voluntary CrossFit community of 15,000 affiliates and millions of individual adherents stands steadfastly and often alone against an unholy alliance of academia, government, and multinational food, beverage, and pharmaceutical companies,” the press release said.

Reversing chronic illness

He elaborated on his health-for-all philosophy in a later interview. “If you go to one of our 10-year affiliates and ask them what is this business about, it’s about soccer moms and grandparents and children, and fat middle-aged attorneys, not the games. One of the things that has been really hard for me is when I meet with the 10-year affiliates, these people are all my friends and I knew them when we all had nothing. And to have them come into my home and tell me, ‘You know coach, it’s not about the games,’ and it almost makes me cry. (26)

“So we have two realities here, what is the most important thing that is happening in the box every morning everywhere? And it’s the avoidance and reversal of chronic disease, creating a fully functional, autonomous, self-actualizing human being that integrates what they’ve learned in the gym and their health and fitness with the rest of their lives. And it’s so mundane, it really has nothing to do with sport or competition.”

A prescription for health and fitness

One of the ways Glassman is advancing his fitness campaign is to enlist the help of the estimated 20,000 doctors enrolled in CrossFit. (27)

“Medicine is supposed to be about helping you through the accidents — the misfortune of a genetic disease, the misfortune of a trauma, the misfortune of some pathogen,” Glassman said. “Nobody went to medical school to babysit someone through a life of self-inflicted misery because of two deadly habits: sedentarism and excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates.” (28)

Not afraid of a fight

Glassman’s passionate position on health and fitness has entangled him in a variety of high-profile confrontations and law suits for which he makes no apology. In fact a full list and details of the various disputes can be found on the CrossFit web page appropriately entitled battles.

“CrossFit’s bold positions on health and fitness have brought us into conflict with the entrenched interests of the fitness, nutrition, and food and beverage industries. These entities have launched and funded numerous efforts to restrain and regulate CrossFit affiliates. They have engaged in repeated scientific misconduct and fraud, lobbied for legislation that would criminalize the daily practices of CrossFit affiliates and trainers, and covered up the corporate partnerships that fund their work, at times in contravention of federal law.” (29)

Artwork sparks a legal battle

One such battle involves the giant soft drink company PepsiCo which sent a cease-and-desist letter, threatening “appropriate legal action” unless CrossFit removed an offending image from its web site. The artwork image superimposed the word hyponatremia over the familiar Gatorade lightning bolt logo. (30)

“The artwork served to elucidate Gatorade’s hydration myths, not advertise or indicate a commercial good or service. As such, it fell solidly within CrossFit’s fair use rights. CrossFit will not comply with PepsiCo’s demands and is prepared to defend its rights to the full extent of the law. CrossFit also will continue to shine a light on the fatal consequences of the food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries’ efforts to make a profit through the corruption of the health sciences—including nutrition, exercise, and hydration,” was the CrossFit response. (31)

To summarize: The CrossFit games involving top CrossFit athletes around the world has continued to grow in popularity since they were launched in 2007. Although the Games have helped popularize CrossFit, Glassman insists his primary concern is not elite competitions, but rather improving the lives of the millions of people crippled by bad diets and sedentary lifestyles. His dedication to this philosophy has involved him in several high-profile confrontations and law suits.

Embracing the pain together: The rise of the CrossFit Community

“In a traditional gym, if you carry out a 2k row with 20 air squats EMOM, you would get a lot of funny looks as you jump on and off the rower. Especially when you collapse to the floor afterwards trying to gulp in air for 5 minutes after you complete your workout! At CrossFit the community welcomes and encourages you to really test your ability to go all out! We can scream and grunt as we lift heavy weights, we can fall to the floor in a sweaty heap after using the Airdyne, we can cry with frustration, even laugh at disasters. This is a special environment filled with incredible people who think it’s ok to do what you want and will even try and help you achieve your goals.” (32)

While CrossFit does boast a lot of amazingly fit adherents like Tia-Clair Toomey and Matt Fraser, repeat winners at the annual 2019 CrossFit games and possessors of the fittest man and woman on earth titles. A big reason for its continued popularity is that it welcomes people of all fitness levels, from teens to senior citizens, from newbie athletes who don’t know a barbell from a kettlebell to elite level athletes.

“Communities form at CrossFit gyms in the most random ways. People from all walks of life end up in a class together, sweat together, suffer together and work hard on weaknesses together. Through these experiences, they become friends and walls are broken down. People become friends with people they never would have expected. All of a sudden, expectations people once had of themselves and other people start to change. Maybe they start looking at people outside the gym differently, as well, as if everyone is a potential friend or community member. People actually become people again,” writes CrossFitter Allison Truscheit. (33)

“The community that spontaneously arises when people do these workouts together is a key component of why CrossFit is so effective. Harnessing the natural camaraderie, competition and fun of sport or game yields an intensity that cannot be matched by other means.” (34)

CrossFit is more expensive than typical gyms however, and this does influence its membership diversity. (35)

Open to all ages and all sexual orientations.

People of all ages can be CrossFitters. Many women say they are drawn to the sport because of its emphasis on performance rather than appearance.

“Never have I participated in a workout where my looks are so beside the point,” said a woman in her fifties who’d spent the 1980s doing aerobics, the 1990s in Step class, and more recently indoor cycling. “What our bodies can do, rather than what they look like, is the whole point.” (36)

Crossfit recently updated its transgender policy stating that athletes may “select their gender” as well as imposing testosterone levels for female competitors.

Glassman noted they are not trying to make any type of social or political statement and simply falling in line with other professional sports leagues and governing athletic bodies.

“We’ve got no interest in excluding anyone and this is not my f****** issue. My issue is blood sugar control and chronic disease, that’s what I care about. I don’t care if you are L, G, B, T or Q, I honest to God don’t care. And so what I want to do is just do that thing that everyone else does. I don’t want to be groundbreaking, or discriminatory.” (37)

Attack on LGBTQ community results in firing

In 2018, CrossFit fired its chief knowledge officer, Russell Berger after he attacked the LGBT community on Twitter. (38)

His tweet followed a CrossFit location in Indianapolis being forced to shut down after an employee boycott of the location being closed for a day in honor of LGBT Pride Month.

Berger wrote on Twitter "As someone who personally believes celebrating "pride" is a sin, I'd like to personally encourage #CrossFitInfiltrate for standing by their convictions and refusing to host an @indypride workout. The intolerance of the LGBTQ ideology toward any alternative views is mind-blowing." (39)

Berger was eventually fired by Glassman. "He [Berger] needs to take a big dose of 'shut the fuck up' and hide out for a while. It's sad." (40)

To summarize: One of the biggest differences between CrossFit and global gyms is the community that develops when exercising as a group. CrossFit members are loyal and enthusiastic. Because CrossFit costs more than a typical gym membership there is a built-in lack of economic diversity, but discrimination based on sexuality is forbidden and has resulted in high-profile dismissals.

CrossFit causes injuries? Don’t believe everything you read.

The likelihood of injury while doing CrossFit is significant, contended the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NASCA) in 2015. It based its concerns on a single study that claimed 16 percent of its subjects cited “overuse or injury” as their reasons for not completing training.

That simply wasn’t true, it turned out.

The study was based on fabricated research and following a legal challenge by Glassman, NASCA issued a retraction saying the injury risks were unsubstantiated. (41)

In fact, there are no studies showing CrossFit has a higher injury rate than other comparable sport or exercise. “Over the past several years, CrossFit training has been scrutinized in the mainstream media because of the supposed high incidence of injuries; however, these statements seem not to be supported by empirical evidence.” (42)

Injuries happen with CrossFit, just as they do with powerlifting, weightlifting, bodybuilding, running, and any organized sport. Research has shown however that “the injury incidence rate associated with CrossFit training was low, and comparable to other forms of recreational fitness activities.” (43)

As it turns out, all exercise involves the risk of injury. Even yoga. (44)

But won’t my kidney shut down?

Rhabdomyolysis is a condition in which skeletal muscle can become so damaged muscle cells rupture causing serious kidneys damage.

Rhabdomyolysis can be caused by a number of things, like alcoholism, genetics, and dehydration, but it is often brought on by extreme physical exercise such as what happens on a typical day in a typical CrossFit box where vomiting from over-exertion is often considered a badge of honour. (45)

In sports, the muscle damage happens with excessively strenuous exercise, but it can also be caused by crushing injuries to the body, some medications, toxins, or infections. (46, 47)

The CrossFit community tends to take a light-hearted approach to this illness which is actually not very common and which occurs in all sports where constant and extreme physical exertion is required. (48) An Uncle Rhabdo cartoon clown, blue-haired-red-nosed, panting from exhaustion with organs and blood spilling from his body is widely circulated in the CrossFit community.

Statistically, rhabdomyolysis is no more common in CrossFit box than on a bicycle race track. It is easily avoided with smart coaching and thoughtful programming. (49)

Symptoms of rhabdomyolysis depend on severity but can include general weakness, extreme stiffness, soreness and swelling of the affected muscle, and abnormally dark colored urine. (50)

In summary: CrossFit has been criticized for causing too many injuries. However, statistics have not shown any evidence of this. CrossFit doesn't appear to be any more dangerous than any other sport that involves intense exertion. Rhabdomyolysis, a dangerous break-down of muscle tissue that can happen as a result of extreme exertion does not occur any more frequently in CrossFit than other sports.

Is there a CrossFit diet?

Nutrition has always been a core component of the CrossFit philosophy.

Practicing CrossFit without paying attention to diet is like having only one oar in the water, according to Glassman.

“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.” is the recommendation posted on the CrossFit page. (51)

CrossFit recommends a daily eating plan of approximately 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. This approach is similar to that of popular fad diets such as the Zone and Paleo nutrition plans. (52)

“The CrossFit Nutrition plan was not developed by a registered dietitian,” WebMD points out. “Most importantly, it will not fulfill the dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It offers lower carbohydrate consumption and a higher protein intake than what is recommended for active people by the American Dietetic Association, which is the leading organization for nutritional-based research.” (53)

The CrossFit Health page contains a number of blogs criticizing commonly held nutritional wisdom such as the role of cholesterol in heart disease and attacking scientific institutions for inappropriate relationships with companies in the processed foods industry.

“CrossFit Health is an investigation into the ills of modern medicine and the wilful abuse of the public’s trust in science. The lessons learned from the legal dismantling of fake science, a crooked journal, and perjuring scientists have given us a forensic view as to how everything might have gone so wrong. We’re calling the combination of runaway medical costs and disease rates–which many profit from but none combat effectively— “The Mess.” (54)

These pictures are part of a set of photos that were taken towards the end of the summer to realize one of my projects that was close to my heart: making a calendar for the coming year. Because I like to admire the colour and textures, vegetables are an excellent choice because they can offer a whole show for the eyes all year round!
Photographer: Nadine Primeau | Source: Unsplash

More moderate dietary approach is more popular

The truth is that many, if not most, CrossFitters don’t follow CrossFit’s nutritional guidelines but choose ones more favored by nutritionists which call for more carbs and less protein.

“When I started CrossFit in 2013, so many people who did it followed the Paleo diet, which involves eating lots of lean protein, veggies, and healthy fats, a little bit of fruit, and a little starch. All grains and dairy products are off-limits. While Paleo’s emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods is good, it has been consistently ranked one of the worst overall diets to follow in recent years. Also, cutting out all grains and added sugars often means that people eat fewer carbs, and carbs are especially important when you’re exercising regularly, as pretty much everyone who does CrossFit is likely to do.” (55)

The official recommendation of dietitians is to adjust the diet according to individual diets and not follow a generic plan.

Find the diet that works for you

“An individualized approach to diet supports training, performance, and body size of athletes more than ‘one size fits all’ methods. An accredited sports dietitian can better determine an appropriate carbohydrate intake based on training volume and individual body size as opposed to a percentage of total energy intake (as occurs in the Zone diet). (56)

"Some people are doing CrossFit to lose weight, some are doing it to gain muscle, and some just want to stay healthy. Regardless of what you’re doing CrossFit for, you should choose a diet that works for you and a diet that you can stick with for the long-term.” (57)

The best diet is the one that works for you, agrees Brent Fikowski, former silver medalist in the CrossFit games. “It shouldn’t feel like a sacrifice. It needs to become a habit, a lifestyle.” (58)

“The reason I eat this way is because it makes me feel good, and when I feel good, I train good, and when I train good, I’m happier. People ask, "Don’t you miss ice cream and beer?” Well, yeah! But then I would feel awful.”

Diet is absolutely vital to performance, says head coach Dave Spurr from Only Training. For that reason, it is critical to get guidance from someone who has knowledge and experience in the field rather than some coach with a fitness certificate that has nothing to do with nutrition.

In summary: Diet is a large part of the CrossFit philosophy. However, the diet it encourages, which involves higher levels of protein and lower levels of carbs, is not generally recommended by nutrition experts. CrossFit's position on this is that the experts are wrong and generally accepted science has been corrupted by the processed food industry.

More to coaching than a certificate

As CrossFit becomes more popular and the number of boxes quickly appear and almost as quickly disappear, the scarcity of good coaches is becoming more evident. (The fail rate for gyms, studios, and boxes is around 80 percent.) (59) There are more and more boxes with poorly trained coaches ill-prepared to safely supervise demanding workouts, critics are warning.

“. . . the box has recently started using the non-certified or only L1-certified coaches for WOD classes, and people are really not happy about it. The programming has been bad/weird, warm-ups have been inadequate or poor and some people have had (minor) injuries or pain which they blame on lack of coaching,” is typical of coaching complaints being heard. (60)

CrossFit coaches are able to get certified in a weekend, points out CrossFit critic and ultimate athlete Melissa Witmer.

“The only real barrier to opening up your own CrossFit gym is how much money you have. Few of these entry-level coaches have any real knowledge of proper form, which is especially critical for Olympic and Power lifts. So on top of having an already overly-strenuous, very high-intensity program that sets you up for injury to start with, most people are doing the lifts and other exercises all wrong and there is no one there to correct them.” (61)

Certificate does not make a coach

“You can be a coach, or you can be “Coach," says CrossFit coach Patrick McCarty

"The former is a title bestowed upon you by the certification process; the latter usually takes years of honing skills, relationships, methods, curriculum, and practical experience to achieve. And the idea that you can wander into an L1 Certification course just a CrossFitter on a Saturday morning and emerge Sunday afternoon as 'Coach' is pure fantasy". (62)

To be eligible for the Certified CrossFit Trainer credential, you must be at least 18 years old and attend training courses that, as of early 2017, cost $1,000 each. Trainers are certified at four different levels of ascending difficulty. However, an easily obtained, level 1 is all that is required to coach. (63)

“That's not to say there aren't well-experienced trainers coaching CrossFit across the country, but with certification and affiliation so simple to attain, the program's becoming diluted with inexperienced trainers,” says Eric Cressey, C.S.C.S., a shoulder and injury prevention expert and owner of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass. Certification without experience “makes you a liability, not a professional," he says. (64)

When generic scripts aren't enough

With the surge of CrossFit and a growing public awareness of the benefits exercise provides, has come an increased demand for personalized training.

CrossFit classes come with a trainer (who may, or may not be well qualified and experienced) and a new WOD every day, but sometimes that’s not enough.

Some critics argue that CrossFit is not a good sport for serious athletes anyway and the generic programming it provides is seriously flawed.

“The best CrossFit coaches are those who deviate the most from Workout of the Day (WOD) style workouts. The best practitioners of CrossFit and those who actually win the CrossFit games don’t follow CrossFit’s own philosophy,” points out Widmer.(65)

Only Training’s Dave Spurr says that CrossFit works for elite and lower-level participants, but agrees generic WODs are geared toward the general population and getting the average person in better shape. For many people that won’t be enough, he warns.

“With generic programs, there is always a risk that specific weaknesses are not being addressed.”

Personal coaches address individual needs

A personal coach working at your side is the ideal way to address individual weaknesses, but for most that’s impractical and too expensive, and plus there are not enough high-quality coaches to fill the demand, he says.

That’s where online training is proving so valuable, he says. “Online coaching allows you to work one-on-one with someone catering to their specific training needs, without actually having to be there in person. If upper body pushing strength is lacking then more time can be spent on that. Or perhaps the person’s deadlift technique is flawed.

“An online trainer can help someone who is looking to get fitter and stronger, or address individual weaknesses, help with weight loss, identify injuries, or assist with other physical goals. They can be much more hyper-focused in one modality like weightlifting or gymnastics depending on the need."

Even experienced athletes can benefit

“Also a box might not have any other competitors at your level so it can be difficult to push yourself. A personalized training program scripted by a top trainer can help you compete against the best in the world.”

An added benefit of online trainers is that they can create flexible workouts designed to be performed at home, in the gym, or even outside, he adds.

“Experienced athletes need trainers just as much as the inexperienced, Spurr says. “Often a trained athlete will think they have identified all their weaknesses. Often they are wrong.”

“Even an experienced athlete will sometimes avoid a particular exercise that requires that little bit of extra effort. Trainers push them to address those issues they might not even realize they’re avoiding.”

How to choose an online training program

The great thing about online training courses, is that everyone now has the ability to get personalized help from the best trainers in the world, most of whom are offering their services online, says Spurr.

“The trick is to find the one that best suits you.”

“Before hiring an online trainer, be sure to check their education, experience, certification, and reviews,” says Baltimore-based personal trainer Erica Suter, who trains clients both in-person and online.

“Too often, people hire online trainers based on how many Instagram followers they have, instead of the actual work they've done for people.” (66)

“There are plenty of charlatans in the industry who do not have the necessary qualifications. As an example, if you're looking to be strong during pregnancy, it's in your best interest to find an online coach who has worked with a plethora of moms and not a fitness celebrity who only posts selfies.”

Paper credentials don’t tell the whole story when you’re looking for a CrossFit trainer, warns Spurr, who, as well as being a top CrossFit competitor, won gold in weightlifting at the 2018 Masters Pan American and at the 2018 Masters Canadian. “Experience is just as important as credentials, if not more so.

Check for experience

“The first thing you have to look for is have they been involved in the sport? Have they competed? Have they coached? What is their background? What did they do before CrossFit? Do your research. Find out their story.

“There should be a consultation. Come prepared with a lot of questions. Who else do you coach? What has their progression been like? Any flow? How long have you been doing it? How accessible will they be? Who is doing the programming? Consider it a red flag if that is not made clear.”

A lot of traditional training methods don’t really carry over when it comes to CrossFit training, says Spurr.

“There are so many things going on. The amounts of movements. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to train or coach somebody if I hadn’t done it myself.

“I would absolutely recommend that you do not choose your program based on a random Instagram or YouTube video. Reach out to several different companies to see what they have to offer."

In summary: Anyone with an easily-obtained level one certificate can teach CrossFit. As the number of CrossFit boxes has grown, a problem with the quality of coaching in some boxes has emerged. As well, the generic exercises provided in the WOD do not always adequately address individual weaknesses. Personal training is expensive and inconvenient and high-quality personal trainers are not always available. This has created a demand for online training where top coaches provide exercise routines that address issues specific to the individual.

How to speak CrossFit. And what’s with all these killer exercises named after women?

Many of CrossFit’s most demanding WODs are named after women. There’s Angie, for example . . . and Elizabeth, Barbara, Chelsea, Diane, and Fran, etc. etc..

Glassman said he named his exercises because he wanted to explain the workout once to his group, give it a name, and then refer to the name next time without having to explain what was involved. It’s easier to say “Fran” than to say “a front squat into push press followed by pull-ups.” (67)

There was a reason he named the tougher exercises after women he famously joked. “Any workout that leaves you flat on your back, staring up at the sky, wondering what the hell happened, deserves a girl’s name.” (68)

How tough are these routines?

The Barbara involves five circuits of 20 pull-ups, 30 push-ups, 40 sit-ups, and 50 body weight-only squats performed in order, while only resting at the end of each circuit for a three-minute period.

The Angie requires 100 pull ups, 100 push ups, 100 sit ups, and 100 squats.

The Diane involves deadlift (RX = 102kg for men and 52.5kg for women) and handstand push ups in succession. First round 21 repetitions of each. Second round 15, third round 9. (69)

There are also hero WODs named after military servicemen, police, or firefighters who have died in the line of duty, these difficult workouts are intermittently programmed in CrossFit to provide an extra challenge and reminder of their sacrifice. (70)

A concise dictionary of CrossFit terminology

  • AMRAP: As Many Reps (sometimes Rounds) as Possible
  • ATG: Ass to Grass (Doing full range squats and beyond, meaning when you squat you go below parallel.)
  • BP: Bench press
  • BS: Back squat
  • BW (OR BWT): Bodyweight
  • CFT: CrossFit Total – consisting of max squat, press, and deadlift.
  • CFWU: CrossFit Warm-up
  • CLN: Clean
  • C&J: Clean and jerk
  • C2: Concept II rowing machine
  • DL: Deadlift
  • FS: Front squat
  • GHD: Gluteus- Hamstring Developer. Posterior chain exercise, like a back extension.
  • GHD SITUP: Situp done on the GHR(D) bench.
  • HSPU: Hand stand push up. Kick up into a handstand (use wall for balance, if needed) bend arms until nose touches floor and push back up.
  • HSQ: Hang squat (clean or snatch). Start with bar “at the hang,” about knee height. Initiate pull. As the bar rises drop into a full squat and catch the bar in the racked position. From there, rise to a standing position
  • KB: Kettlebell
  • KTE: Knees to elbows. Similar to TTBs described below.
  • METCON: Metabolic Conditioning workout
  • MU: Muscle ups. Hanging from rings you do a combination pull-up and dip so you end in an upright support.
  • OHS: Overhead squat. Full-depth squat performed while arms are locked out in a wide grip press position above (and usually behind) the head.
  • PC: Power clean
  • PD: Pood, weight measure for kettlebells
  • PR: Personal record
  • PP: Push press
  • PSN: Power snatch
  • PU: Pull-ups, possibly push ups depending on the context
  • REP: Repetition. One performance of an exercise.
  • RX’D: As prescribed; as written. WOD done without any adjustments.
  • RM: Repetition maximum. Your 1RM is your max lift for one rep. Your 10 RM is the most you can lift 10 times.
  • SDHP: Sumo deadlift high pull (see exercise section)
  • SET: A number of repetitions. e.g., 3 sets of 10 reps, often seen as 3×10, means do 10 reps, rest, repeat, rest, repeat.
  • SN: Snatch
  • SQ: Squat
  • SUBBED: Substituted. The CORRECT use of “subbed,” as in “substituted,” is, “I subbed an exercise I can do for one I can’t.”
  • TGU: Turkish get-up (See exercise section)
  • TTB: Toes to bar. Hang from bar. Bending only at waist raise your toes to touch the bar, slowly lower them and repeat.
  • WOD: Workout of the day
  • YBF: You’ll Be Fine (liberally applied in spray form)

What are you waiting for?

Who would've thought a scripted fitness regime demanding such intense effort would become so popular with such a variety of people? In its two decades of existence, CrossFit has proven that exercising can be fun, that it can improve quality of life and that a lot of people actually enjoy working out in a group. Injury is a concern, but it is also a concern with all sports - even yoga. To exercise is to accept the risk you will hurt yourself, but that risk can be easily minimized with attention to form and proper training. And even if you aren't chasing that chiseled movie-star body, CrossFit can still make you healthier and maybe even improve your social life. So why not? Pick a box, pick your WOD, and start chasing those PRs (but stay away from Uncle Rhabdo).

  31. Ibid

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