CrossFit Sucks?

It’s no wonder that strength and conditioning coaches get a little pissy about CrossFit when their stapline is

“FORGING ELITE FITNESS”

After all, what could they possibly know about forging elite fitness – we work with athletes – only we know what it takes to forge elite fitness!

For years now, CrossFit has been an easy target for ‘elitist’ strength and conditioning coaches and I’ve sat and listened to friends and colleagues rubbish Crossfit – do you know what, I’ve probably even had the odd dig myself and I would suggest that many of those comments (mine included) have come from a position of ignorance.

But here’s the thing, I’ve started to reconsider my position – maybe CrossFit doesn’t Suck.

As a certified strength and conditioning coach I’ve been tutoring aspiring S&C coaches for the past 5-years and on every course I’ve seen an increasing number of CrossFit enthusiasts and coaches. Now in the beginning conversations were tough becasue I thought S&C was superior and CrossFit was something failed athletes and S&C wannabes did. It wasn’t proper training and the CrossFit games were stupid!

In the early days I think standards within the emerging Crossfit Boxes were low and I wasn’t a fan of what I was seeing or hearing. My early  interactions tended to confirm my fears and during those embryonic conversations I was often met with vitrilioc abuse if I dare suggest that constantly varied, functional movements done at high intensities may not always be the most appropriate approach to training. However, during the last couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of CrossFit coaches that are actually pretty balanced indivduals that don’t mindlessly bang out WOD after WOD after WOD. They actually sit down and create logical, systematic training programmes and dare I say it – work hard on technique!

So why do we hate CrossFit?

What I think happened was that the strength and conditioning community S**T themsleves because all of a sudden facilities were popping up around the country that looked very similar to their supposedly high end training facilities, and recreational athletes and members of the general public were all of a sudden taking part in training that looked very similar to what we were doing with our athletes – CrossFit was bringing functional training to the masses and we didn’t like it! We weren’t special anymore!

So why have I mellowed my opinion?

1. I’ve actually entered into conversations (not arguments) with CrossFit coaches and enthusiasts and I’ve liked a lot of what I’m hearing. They’re proving to me that they don’t just have a completely random, constantly varied approach to programme design. They follow structured programmes and train with a purpose. CJ Martin is a coach I spoke to recently from Invictus and guess what, he is a good guy (not least for the fact that he’s shorter than me!) with solid thoughts on training. He’s not a ‘Pukey The Clown’ T-Shirt wearing numpty!

CJ-Gravatar-1

CJ Martin – he’s short!

2. I’ve seen two of the best CrossFit athletes train and I was impressed. I was fortunate enough to see Josh Bridges and Matt Fraser

train recently and they’re athletes. I know they’re athletes, because I’ve spent 18 years working in performance sport and I’m telling you now, they’re athletes.

Josh Bridges

Josh Bridges

Matt Fraser

Matt Fraser

3. I’ve decided that just because the CrossFit games doesn’t really flick my switch and I can’t really see the point in training, to then compete in training – doesn’t mean I should rubbish it. The guys that compete at the games love it and dedicate themselves to it. Just because I don’t particulalry like their chosen sport doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the training, time and effort they put in to being the best. I don’t really like American Football but I appreciate the athleticism of the players.

4. Who’s decided it’s not a proper sport? If we don’t think CrossFit is a ‘proper’ sport – shall we take some time to consider some other daft sports – Powerlifting – lift big heavy weights on 3 lifts (Deadlift, Bench and Squat). Trust me – I’ve seen some powerlifters that have zero movement capacity outside of those 3 lifts and are banged up as a result of their highly repetitive training. Weightlifting – lift big heavy weights on 2 lifts (Clean and Jerk, Snatch). Both examples of sports where the training is actually the same as the sport – is that not one of the reasons why we ridicule CrossFit? Hmmmmm? How about Strongman – lift big heavy things and compete in events that change each year – is that not what we ridicule CrossFit for? You see where I’m going with this…

5. Maybe we are comparing apples with oranges when we say that CrossFit is dangerous. Sure I can jump on Youtube and amuse myself watching montages of CrossFit ‘fails’ but I can probably dig out a load of clips of general gym goers doing very similar things and looking just as ridiculous. Sure, some of the techniques we will see are terrible and not acceptable but we are comparing apples with oranges. If I go and watch a game of pub football at the local park I’m not going to see amazing technique. I’ll see out of shape men running around with terrible tekkers and probably pulling a muscle during the process. Does that mean the English Premier League is rubbish? I’ve seen terrible S&C coaches deliver awful training sessions – it doesn’t mean that we are all terrible coaches. The trick – as with most things, is find the best coach and the best facility. If you do that you’re going to be less likely to injure yourself.

6. CrossFit – like it or not, has thrust ‘functional’ training into the public arena and we now have men and women training in a manner that is far more athletic – that’s got to be a good thing, surely? I reckon the emergence of CrossFit has also given Weightlifting coaches a whole new revenue stream – coaching the coaches!

Peformance Coach, Darren Roberts thinks CrossFit has had a positive influence on the fitness lanscape…

Excerpt from Wiggle Interviews Peformance Coach -Darren Roberts

“Has the development and popularity of Crossfit style workouts made any difference to you clients perceptions of training methods?

I get asked this question a lot! CrossFit and that style of training has done more to improve and progress real fitness amongst the general population than anything else I’ve seen. It’s also helped people understand that the way you look is from function, from being fit and strong – not the starved, dehydrated and airbrushed hyper real fitness cover model.

5 years ago a facility with a rig and floor space to move free weights were only available to athletes – now there are facilities everywhere with all walks of life training with functional barbell and bodyweight movements. I’d be fascinated to know what’s happened to participation levels in Olympic lifting and weightlifting competitions these last few years.

For my athletes who haven’t had the benefit of institute based training from a young age (a good thing in my view) they now have access to good facilities and training ideal for them because it challenges them physically and mentally.”

So here are my final thoughts…

Whilst I’m a lot more open minded than I was a few years ago, I still have a couple of concerns.

The appropriatness of some of the training methodolgies that are used by the masses has to be questioned (constantly varied, functional movements done at high intensities is not a sustainable training method for delivering long-term athletic success). You can’t just throw shit at the wall every day and see what sticks. You will at some point need to work out exactly what shit you need to throw and where to throw it.

The injury potential in the majority of CrossFit boxes still makes me nervous, but I think this is undoubtedly linked to the level of coaching and programme design -and the same can be said for pretty much any sport/training system – right?

I think we attack things that we don’t fully understand or feel threatened by

Watching a montage of CrossFit ‘fails’ or reading a couple of forum posts from an industry expert doesn’t always paint the whole picutre.

If your a ‘snobby’ S&C coach that loves to be a hater – find yourself a decent CrossFit box and coach – have a go – then pass comment – but until you’ve experienced it you should probably pipe down!

If CrossFit is your thing – go for it, just make sure you find yourself a decent CrossFit box and coach.


I would love to know what you think…

Student competencies are reported to the teacher navigate over here as a formative assessment of gameplay
Nick GranthamCrossFit Sucks?

7 Comments on “CrossFit Sucks?”

  1. Antonis

    Strength training is becoming more and more an important factor for injuries prevention. Cross Fit is a fun way of achieving this aim – providing the instructors know their stuff – !

  2. Simon

    Hi Nick, further to our chat on Twitter I thought I would comment here as 140 characters is very restrictive and I have never committed my thoughts to writing so thought I would see if they hold up under scrutiny. Let me know what you think!

    I trained at the first ever UK affiliate back in 2007 and think that the standards back then were actually very high as it was well outside the mainstream. It was experienced coaches and trainers who found it first and enforced good technique, intelligent programming etc. The problems came as people who had no experience in coaching physical training attended a 2 day course and opened their own gym the next week. These people also swallow the party line unquestioningly as they know no better.

    This is increasingly a problem as it becomes more and more mainstream with companies like Reebok and Nike entering the market as they eye the money to be made. With Crossfit benefitting to the tune of $1,000 a head from 10 certs a weekend with up to 50 attendees at each, I can’t see this changing.

    I do question the notion that S&C Coaches shit themselves over CF. None of the Accredited S&C coaches I have ever spoken to feel threatened by someone with 2 days education but they have expressed genuine concern for the people attending gyms that have these coaches and follow the methodology as espoused by the HQ.

    This brings me on to the fact that the good coaches and athletes you have met aren’t actually using the CF methodology to train for CF the sport.

    You state that ” The appropriatness of some of the training methodolgies that are used by the masses has to be questioned (constantly varied, functional movements done at high intensities is not a sustainable training method for delivering long-term athletic success)”.

    I couldn’t agree more but this is not one of CF’s methodologies it is THE methodology as defined by their own HQ. As is 3 days on, 1 day off & high rep Olympic lifting. This is what the 2 day Certification trainers are being indoctrinated in. If you want lessons in dogma by the way there are few better than CF HQ. Despite their claim of “Open Source” you question their creed at your peril as Mark Twight, Dan John, Robb Wolff, Mark Rippetoe and countless other outside experts have found out to their cost.

    Seeing as the majority of good coaches do not follow this methodology they are essentially using the CF affiliation as a marketing exercise and the good athletes are chasing the ever increasing prize funds. I originally agreed with you that there is nothing wrong with that but thinking about it I do see some problems. Ethically, I personally feel it is disingenuous for coaches to do this if, fundamentally, they disagree with the methodology and don’t actually follow it. For the athletes the competitions include some exercises that are almost guaranteed to end in injury. Sumo Deadlift Highpulls (loaded shoulder impingment test anyone?), Kipping Pullups (SLAP tears), high rep box jumps which are often weighted (snapping numerous Achilles tendons), high rep Olympic Lifting – the list goes on.

    Another concern with CF is the teaching methodology for skills. Most of their methods are in direct opposition to the published skill acquisition literature such as their preference for decomposition of skills. If you do not use their method of instruction (and even certain cues) you cannot pass their certs.

    I understand that it has been a long time since I was actively training their methodology so am fully prepared to stand corrected on any of this but I have followed with interest as it has developed from when I began to now. As a result I hope this is seen as a somewhat informed opinion and not just a baseless attack.

    PS bit of a stream of consciousness there so not sure if it makes any sense to anyone else reading it!

  3. Nick Grantham

    Simon, thanks for taking the time to put together such a detailed comment – you’re right 140 characters on twitter doesn’t always cut it!

    I’m not sure I have a huge amount to add to your thoughts without us going round and round in circles. I think each of your points is well worth considering and I guess what we have both done (through my post and your comment) is share our opinions based on our experiences.

    One thing is for sure, I’ll keep on looking at it with an open mind and maybe at some point I’ll change my opinions again!

  4. Mark Meeks

    i keep hearing it and you even said it…. And as usual…. No with no specifics!!!!

    People keep saying there’s injury risk!!

    What possible injuries are we talking about?

    Legitimate injuries! Not ones from bad coaching or form etc…..

    I have 2 nagging injuries…. But one comes from hs football and the other comes from hs baseball!…. NOT CF!!!

    I’d just like to hear the specific possible injuries…. Then when I do I’d like to hear he haters attack the “sport” it belongs too…. For some reason they only attack cf! Lol!!

    It’s usually gym owners or personal trainers that suck at there job or have ridiculous high prices who do the most hating…. Losing their business because normal people are getting better results from a box.

  5. Nick Grantham

    Mark – thanks for the comment.

    Here’s what I actually said in the post…

    “The injury potential in the majority of CrossFit boxes still makes me nervous, but I think this is undoubtedly linked to the level of coaching and programme design -and the same can be said for pretty much any sport/training system – right?”

    Just to clarify my point ALL sporting and athletic activities carry a level of risk and injury potential and the point I was making was that if the standard of coaching and/or programmes design in a CF Box was innaporpriate there’s going to be an increased chance of injury. I also added that this can also be true for a range of sports and athletic activities.

    From your comments I’m guessing that you think I’m ATTACKING CF. I wasn’t ‘HATING’ or ‘ATTACKING’ CF, I was simply saying that if the coaching was poor in a CF Box there’s an increased potential to pick up an injury – (‘legitimate’ or otherwise but I’m not really sure what the difference between what you describe as a ‘legitamate’ injury and one from bad coaching is – you’re still injured – right?).

  6. Oliver Waugh-Swain

    I personally really enjoyed reading about such a grey area with relation to S&C and crossfit. From a personal opinion relating to gaining my own recognition and building a career with S&C. I tried gaining further experience across all areas and one of those relating with forms of lifting towards achieving accreditation. For months on end and constant knock backs from emails trying to find somewhere that would allow me to learn and gain experience under great coaches. This started to become like a closing door, but Crossfit I personally feel with the correct coaches in place gave myself and other aspiring S&C coaches the footstep towards learning, lifting practise from a novice background. And although possibly agreeing over the matter between intensity and long term goals of creating athletes. Crossfit does offer something, the first stage of development skills across an area which can relate within S&C. And like mentioned before although from a personal opinion, from constantly looking to gain further recognition and experience Crossfit has a great offer of variables for those aspiring coaches to learn within a realistic opportunity of gathering experience.

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