CrossFit: A Pricey Fitness Cult Or A Muscle Building Solution?
What’s the deal with CrossFit these days? It seems like just about everyone and their mom is doing it and it’s all that they talk about. Have you ever heard the expression, the first rule about CrossFit is to always talk about CrossFit? For those of you who have seen the movie Fight Club, you’d find that pretty funny. Some people think of it as more of a cult. These people don’t just think of it as a transformation of your body, but more of a transformation of your life.
And it seems like it’s growing at an equally crazy rate. But is it everything that it’s made out to be? Why do so many people love it so much?
There’s a huge following behind the seemingly-insane idea. Are they on the right track? Do they know something we don’t? Does CrossFit work? Or does CrossFit suck?
We’re going to find out.
Just in case someone hasn’t grabbed you into a corner to talk your ear off about CrossFit yet, we’ll explain it for you. Briefly.
It’s a very intense process and most of the focus goes toward doing both aerobic and strength exercises. This could be anything from push-ups to sprints. With the idea they’ll be showing off their CrossFit bodies for the world to see.
Generally, these exercises are all put into the “Workouts of the Day” or as the CrossFit cult calls it, “WODs”. Though these exercises generally stay around the 30 minute mark, they are extremely intense. Each person’s performance is a combo of friendly rivalry and measurement of progress.
What Do CrossFit Workouts Consist of?
A typical CrossFit workout might look like this. As fast as you can, do 3 rounds 21-15 and then 9 reps of 95-pound thrusters. But it is so much more than just the average workout. It’s an entire culture and community which makes it so cool to many people.
But is all this hype true? We are a little hesitant.
Now, think about the definition of what fitness is. It’s the whole general condition of being both physically fit and healthy. Of course, being fit means having good health because of exercising regularly. We’re also big into using bodyweight exercises to build muscle.
So with this in mind in the fitness world, there are a few ways we measure each other’s fitness levels. All of them include testing, such as testing flexibility, muscular strength, metabolic health, cardio conditioning and body composition.
This means, as we get more and more fit, we’re going to see an increase in our strength, as we get leaner and more muscles. We also become more flexible and better at handling stress that comes along with exercise. One of the most important points is that we’re improving our body’s method of using food for refueling and building muscle.
If we look at the definition of fitness for CrossFit, it’s a little different. Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, believes that it’s about increasing our work capacity across broader time and modal domains.
This means one thing, your fitness level goes as far as CrossFit. Just like that. Super convenient, right? But doesn’t make the most sense.
Head on over to YouTube and look at some of the Crossfit videos. Or if you want to check it out in person, you can always go to a CrossFit gym. You might find some pretty weak, inflexible and even overweight people that are grunting and moaning their way through 30 pull-ups without throwing up.
Is this the definition of CrossFit? Yes. Is this the definition of fit? No.
We aren’t hating on people that are in good shape. After all, there’s major respect to be paid to anyone who is trying to work on their fitness… no matter what their condition is.
But we do think there’s some kind of negativity surrounding CrossFit, because everyone thinks that it is the ultimate way to get into shape. But this isn’t true.
If you’ve ever been to a CrossFit gym or had someone try to sell you on it, there were probably a few buzzwords smacking you in the face. Things like full-body workout, general physical preparedness, metabolic conditioning, functional fitness and even general fitness training. Sound familiar?
Generally, the pitch on CrossFit is that completing a huge range of exercises is going to get you in the best shape of your life. A basic, traditional program isn’t going to give you the results that CrossFit can.
We’ll give you this: CrossFit does have a few advantages. A few. Generally, it’s some pretty tough workouts with real exercises. So yeah, you’re going to see some results if you’re able to stick with it.
But in terms of the best way to get fit, this isn’t the way to do it.
Does CrossFit’s Combination Of Cardio And Strength Training Actually Work?
Let’s see what happens when you combine cardio training and strength.
RMIT University wanted to look at this too. Researchers studied well-trained athletes back in 2009 and found some interesting results. They saw that when you combine resistance exercises and cardio during one session, there is the chance that this could mess with genes needed for anabolism.
Basically what this means is that combining resistance training and endurance training can send mixed signals to your muscles, so it could mess up your body’s ability to adapt to both of these.
The study also found that doing some cardio before a resistance training can actually suppress anabolic hormones. On the flip side, doing cardio after you do resistance training can surge the breakdown of muscle tissue.
There are tons of other studies that show the same thing. While interval training blasts fat, doing strength and endurance training at the same time can hurt you in the long run. Children’s National Medical Center, University of Jyvaskyla and Waikato Institute of Technology all agreed with this.
So does this mean that CrossFit doesn’t help with your endurance or strength? No, that isn’t what we’re getting at. But if your main goal is to get big and strong or even get the most out of your aerobic capacity, science backs up the point that CrossFit isn’t the best way to do it.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that a lot of these CrossFitters don’t really have a lot of strength or muscles. They have semi-decent cardio skills though. A lot of Crossfitters you meet that have decent size, cardio or strength don’t just do CrossFit. They add in weightlifting and/or a cardio program in order to get them the results they want.
Now if you’re looking for the most successful and effective way to get more strength and aerobic endurance, you need to keep cardio exercise and weightlifting separate. So go with a more traditional approach when it comes to increasing fitness.
CrossFit: No Pain No Gain?
A big piece of the Crossfit idea is taking the motto of “no pain, no gain” to a completely different level. If you’re able to train until you’re absolutely exhausted, you’re considered a warrior. If you throw up after you’ve completed a workout, you’re considered an idol.
Well here’s the cold hard facts: unless you’re taking drugs, this is going to take you right to overtraining, which will give you more problems. In fact, it can become serious. Generally, the first symptoms are gradual and include things like depression, loss of appetite, restlessness, overall tiredness and fatigue, loss of motivation to work out and even more. In some cases, it can be acute and even cause death.
None of this is going to keep you from moving forward in your progress.
In fact, in 2005, Makimba Mimms was injured pretty badly during a CrossFit workout. Why do we cite this case? Because he was awarded a whopping $300,000 in damages from his local gym. His injuries were pretty bad. He suffered from rhabdomyolysis.
This sounds like quite a mouthful…and it is. This is actually a condition that can lead to kidney failure. It happens when your muscle tissue, which has been damaged, is released into your bloodstream. This is when kidney failure can happen.
Get this. The workout that Makimba almost died from was actually a workout plan made for children. Pretty funny, but we bet Makimba isn’t laughing…
Rhabdo can happen to just about anyone. In fact, back in January 2011, University of Iowa had to hospitalize a total of 13 of their football players. Why? Because they all had rhabdo. They were doing a workout which included over 100 squats at 50% of their 1-rep max. So even though they weren’t doing a CrossFit workout per say, this is the kind of compound lifts (high reps) that CrossFit generally involves.
Now, if you aren’t taking steroids but you go and go until you’re totally exhausted on a weekly basis (and you’re adding weightlifting regimens) you’re going to overtrain yourself. This isn’t an opinion, it’ s just a fact. It will happen. Sorry.
Something else you’re going to notice with CrossFit, is injuries. A lot of them. Things like pulled muscles, sprains and even torn ligaments. This isn’t exactly the most surprising news.
In terms of safety, that’s on the CrossFit coaches. Let’s say a newbie to CrossFit is going to do a squat or a deadlift, hopefully they know what they’re doing. Because if the coach hasn’t already shown them how to do it in the proper form, or if he/she pushes them too much (which is the general rule in CrossFit), the risk of an injury sky rockets.
What About The Risk Of Injury With CrossFit?
Even if you have a good coach, it can only go so far. Basically CrossFit has the likelihood of an injury right in its name.
Why? Because it involves you doing extremely heavy Olympic-like lifts when you’re exhausted, which is going to lead you to injury. That’s not good. There’s research that reflects this back with the squat. As you get more and more tired, your form is going to be affected. In fact, even your range of motion is going to change with your level of exhaustion. So while you feel like you’re going to the bottom of the squat, you actually aren’t. But you can’t tell so that makes it extremely dangerous.
So if you’re tired, point blank, you shouldn’t be pushing yourself to that length. Doing heavy, hardcore weightlifting exercises, Olympic lifts, squats and deadlifts aren’t the kind of exercises that should be done when you’re exhausted. They require you to be at your best strength and a good place mentally.
If you don’t believe us, we have a little bit of more evidence. Stuart McGill, who has a Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo Ontario and a professor of spine biomechanics, had a few words to say about it.
He looked right at the fatigue and going to the point of failure. He said that while some exercises could help, others won’t. Doing things like Olympic lifts fall into the “not” category here.
McGill also pointed out that doing the movements on repetition with a compromised form isn’t going to enhance performance or reduce injury risk at all. That’s probably why the American College of Sports Medicine suggests you take 3 minutes of resting time in between every heavy set you do.
We aren’t saying that you will for sure get injured while doing CrossFit, we are saying that the chances are high.
In terms of whether or not you personally should do CrossFit, that’s up to you. If you want to have fun while getting fit, CrossFit is a good choice for you. You just want to make sure you have a good coach. You also want to avoid any injuries or the risk of getting overtrained. Be careful.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of overtraining can help you avoid it easier. Get to know your coach and see what he or she does in order to prevent both injuries and overtraining from happening. A cool thing about CrossFit, is the whole competitive environment and feeling of community that comes along with it. Sometimes that’s enough for people to get up and go to the gym, which is obviously going to help your fitness goals.
If you really want to work toward more muscle gains and getting more strength, CrossFit isn’t the best way to get there.. simply stick with weightlifting for that one.