If you’re considering taking up CrossFit as a training regime, there's never been a better time. You can find boxes (as the CrossFit gyms are called) in almost every city in the world. But you might also be asking if it's worth taking up the sport. What are the pros and cons of the fitness trend that claims to create the fittest on earth?
The sport attracts footballers, ex-gymnasts, martial artists, and the guy or gal who is sick of the traditional gym. But it's not for everyone. Like every other fitness regime or methodology, there are advantages and disadvantages. Let's take a look at why you should start CrossFit, and equally as important, why you might want to avoid it.
For people that are already converted (and I mean that in a non-religious, non-hype way), read this article anyway. It’s always good to question your motives, goals, and methods.
I like to think of CrossFit as:
- A fitness program that uses weightlifting, gymnastics, and cardio-based exercises with the aim of creating well-rounded, fit athletes.
- A class-based exercise regime that encourages team participation, goal-setting, and challenges.
- A way of training that incorporates elements of mobility, strength, and endurance, unlike most other sports.
Essentially, CrossFit is the ultimate all-rounder sport. If you’re good at lots of different sports, then it might be for you.
Is CrossFit safe?
Pros and cons to help you decide whether to join a CrossFit gym or not.
1. CrossFit is Safe
It might seem odd to include safety here, but we’ve already established that the sport is not dangerous. In fact, once individuals learn how to pace themselves, and take instructions from a good coach, the chances of injury are low. Several people die each year on treadmills in the US. Many more are injured.
Ordinary gyms, despite the sanitised look and seemingly hazard-free environment, are accident black spots. Inexperienced people, with their attention on TVs and iPhones, all follow their own different programs, in cramped environments. There’s no coordination. No allowance for private space. Nobody communicates with anyone else. Easy to see why accidents happen.
CrossFit, on the other hand, is highly focused. Everyone works together by communicating and coordinating constantly.
Crossfit is safe. There’s some talk on the internet about how high-intensity training is dangerous and unfortunately, accidents do happen. CrossFit is always in the spotlight (unfairly, I might add) due to its fast rise to the top and super passionate students. Anything bad that happens will be seized by the media and ‘competitor’ sports.
CrossFit is safe. It's people that are not safety-conscious. Some people are careless. Egos can make us try things that are beyond our capabilities.
Injury rates in the sport are comparable with Olympic lifting and lower than with contact sports such as Rugby.
2. Challenging and Motivating
Most CrossFit enthusiasts tend to feel queasy when going back to a ‘normal’ gym. The air conditioning, low-energy, and anonymity can be stifling. In CrossFit, there are no mirrors, no headphones, no mobile phones, no machines, and no hiding in the corner like a social outcast.
Classes are based around completing tasks and everyone is encouraged. Yes, there’s some whooping and cheering, but don’t let you put you off. The energy is real. Your classmates will be generous and helpful. There’s a buzz about everyone trying to achieve their best.
You never know what a class might consist of. It could be handstand walk training, clean and jerk practice, and a 2km run with a weight jacket. It could be a maximum deadlift test, followed by 5 rounds of burpees, pull-ups and kettlebell swings. The variations in exercises, intensity, and duration are endless. Constantly varied, that’s the motto of CrossFit.
3. Mobility & Flexibility Improvements
The only sports that really encourage mobility training are gymnastics and weightlifting. Guess what? Both of these disciplines are incorporated into CrossFit. Why is mobility important? Well, as we get older and spend more time sitting at desks, our bodies adapt to our unnatural movement patterns. When I say movement patterns, I really mean ‘lack of movement’ and lack of variation.
Now imagine what happens to the average footballer, rugby player, tennis enthusiast, or jogger when they start exercising after a day of sitting. Without some form of mobility training in our lives we are walking from a cold tub into a fire, overtime we train. Our bodies should be primed for movement, but they are not. Working on flexibility and mobility will help us in our working and exercising times. CrossFit is big on both of these aspects.
4. Constant Improvements & Goal Setting
If you’re someone who likes to learn new things, achieve lofty goals, or tick boxes on their bucket list, then CrossFit is a great training regime. There’s always a new thing to learn and the sense of accomplishment can be truly life-changing.
Once you’ve mastered handstand holds against the wall, you can move onto handstand walks. When you can perform a power snatch with good form, your next goal can be a heavy squat snatch. Pull-ups are great, but what about muscle ups. Can you run a 4-minute mile with a weight vest?
Unlike traditional gym workouts and training, CrossFit gives you the opportunity to develop skills in gymnastics, mobility, and Olympic lifting. For many people, this is all the motivation they need to see their health and bodies improve beyond their expectations.
4. Strong Community
I love the CrossFit community because I'm a big fan of tribes. Passionate individuals tend to band together and this creates a social network that supports.
Despite what some might say, I have always found the vast majority of people in the CrossFit Boxes that I've trained in to be very supportive. I think it helps to be humble, to ask for advice, and to show support for your fellow athletes. Working out together is a great way to build trust and strengthen friendships.
The Cons Of CrossFit – Why It Won’t Work for you
This is not a sport for everyone. There's a sense of competition that irks some people. It's not a weight loss regime although it could be tailored to be so. HIIT is another training regime that often gets compared to CrossFit and if you've tried that you might be disappointed.
1. CrossFit People
You are a loner and prefer to train yourself or train with a buddy. I was like this. I ignored classes for a long time. I even taught exercise classes as part of my fitness instructor course but it wasn’t something that interested me.
Later, when I worked for Les Mills, I’d watch their packed classes (body combat, boxercise, etc) and imagine myself getting involved. It never happened. There just wasn’t the spark of interest. I always thought of classes as something that would be an occasional variation. But I didn’t want to mess with my sacred training routine. That was until it got boring and routine.
It depends on your tolerance for other people in the gym and where you're at with your training. If you can handle being made to work out with your classmates, then it can work. If you prefer to go alone, CrossFit isn't for you.
CrossFitters tend to be a bit obsessive. This is something that will either spur you on to greater things or annoy you to the point of rejecting the sport. I believe that one of the major strengths of the sport is that it is polarising. Most belief systems, methods, and ideas that create fans and haters in equal quantities, with equal levels of passion, usually to stick around in the long term.
2. Rx – High Intensity Training
This isn’t necessarily a con or disadvantage but it’s worth mentioning as it causes problems. Rx is the CrossFit notation for maximum prescribed weight, movement, or effort level.
An instructor picks a weight, for example, that the best athletes in the class will be challenged by. This is called the Rx weight for the WOD (workout of the day). People that want to lift lighter can go for the ‘scaled’ weight. This is usually a fair bit lighter than the Rx weight and is suitable for people that are either not at the level of the top athletes or don’t want to push themselves to that level.
Problems arise when people refuse to use the scaled weights because of how it looks on the whiteboard (where the scores are displayed). Ego gets in the way, people use wrights that are beyond their capabilities, and injuries and accidents happen.
So it’s probably clear at this stage, that most of the problems with CrossFit are down to people’s egos and obsessiveness. The sport itself could be at fault for promoting a high-intensity, goal-driven workout regime that encourages beginners to participate in. Collectively, as CrossFitters, we need to understand what’s healthy and what’s downright dangerous. We need to encourage people to hit their own targets and achieve their own goals, not the goals of others.
3. Group Training
This is a positive and negative. Group training is great for motivation, team spirit, and those kinds of high-level benefits. However, the class-based training model puts everyone in the same box. And that’s not good for the individual.
We’re all different and we all need different types of training to be the best versions of ourselves. I might need to focus more on strength while my friend in class might need cardio. Someone else could be lacking in mobility and this should be his focus. With a programmed class, everyone does the same thing. The only difference is the intensity (scaling).
CrossFit has become a worldwide phenomenon with the CrossFit Games gaining a lot of attention. The professional athletes have moved in and upped the game level. It’s less of a ‘fundamental movements’ sport now as it was in the early days. The sports' focus has realigned itself to be more competitive-based. This has its pros and cons. There’s nothing wrong with competition. But when that’s the main focus of the athletes taking part, it loses the idea that health & fitness should be about improving oneself and not about beating others.
CrossFit can be an expensive sport. The monthly fee is generally higher than the cost of joining a regular gym. This is a deterrent for low-income fitness enthusiasts. It is what it is and it's unlikely to change.