We like to live in a world of healthy ‘extremes’. One day we love and live for a certain style of training, dieting, or lifestyle- and the next, we condemn it. For example; 50 years ago smoking was a source of health and vibrancy, 15 years ago dietary fat was evil, and 5 years ago most people believed running on the treadmill was the best way to lose weight. The bottom line is that the world of health and fitness is a confusing one, and most of the general population tends to attach themselves to specific sets of ideals- never really stopping to actually research the pros and cons of any specific ‘trend’ and how it can help or hurt them.
Enter CrossFit. The most abundant and controversial fitness ‘trend’ that has been picking up steam over the last 5 years. Many people swear by it, and many people swear that it is the current downfall of the fitness industry. What you don’t see, however, are the people who are unbiased and unattached enough to admit that there is some good and some bad in the CrossFit world- and the admission of the instance of either isn’t a compromise of your ideals and personal philosophy- rather, it is a sign of critical thinking, logical process, and understanding why something may or may not be ‘for you’
A little about me
My name is Tommy Caldwell and I am the founder of Hybrid Fitness in London, Ontario. We are a growing brand in Canada that takes a very unbiased approach to fitness and health. We understand that there is value to be found in many facets of training, and the key to health isn’t going to be found by sticking to one specific philosophy ‘religiously’, but rather taking the good from many sources of information, filtering out the bad, and creating individualized plans that work for you- hence a ‘Hybrid’ of many different fitness philosophies.
At Hybrid we aren’t a CrossFit Gym, but we do run a CrossFit program for athletes who want to compete in the ‘Sport’ of CrossFit. We run a program that is specific to our own principles, and we do a pretty damn good job.
I, however, was one of the greatest skeptics of CrossFit when it started growing in the industry, and it was a long road to deciding to run a program out of my gym. The difference was that I chose to sit down and critically analyze the positives and negatives of the ‘sport’ and see if there was a way that we could create a program that focused only on the positives that CF had to offer, and shut out the negative aspects that the ‘Kool-Aid drinkers’ embrace seemingly without much rational thought. I’d say we accomplished that goal successfully, and we currently have 60 athletes who are strong, mobile, and healthy- and they didn’t get there by following the standard CrossFit model.
These are the main aspects I learned about and filtered through in order to build an unbiased, badass CrossFit program that is safe, effective, and original.
CrossFit is not for 90% of the population that is involved in it
The ongoing claim that ‘CrossFit is for everyone’ was the first idea perpetuated in the brand that I found to be fundamentally false. Here is the reality.
If you have ankle mobility issues: Don’t do CrossFit
If you have hip mobility issues: Don’t do CrossFit
If you have shoulder mobility issues: Don’t do CrossFit
If you can’t overhead squat: Don’t do CrossFit
If you aren’t already sound and strong in all basic movement patters: Don’t do Crossfit
If you are new to fitness: for god’s sake, don’t do CrossFit
One major flaw that exists in CF is that in most ‘boxes’ there isn’t an alternative for those who should not be going through the movements that come standard in the sport. Snatches, Overhead Squats, Thrusters, or even basic squatting patterns are not safe for the average immobile person- but if all you offer at your gym is CrossFit and your doors staying open relies on the income of new members, are you really going to turn away a potential client who can barely even sit in a chair? No, you won’t. And that is how you end up with a gym full of weak, immobile people going through dangerous movement patterns that would take at least a year to properly learn from the beginners stage.
Point 1- CrossFit is not for the majority of people who are interested in it or participating in it. However, if you have a gym where people can learn the general fundamentals of training (and no, 4 week on ramps don’t count) then you can always have CrossFit available to members who excel over time and are truly ready to perform those core movements. CrossFit should be a program- not the sole purpose and function of a general fitness facility.
Popularity+Lack of Regulation x Course Frequency=Lots of bad, Little Good
The second issue I found with CrossFit is that the growth of the brand was too fast for the regulation of the affiliates. Since thousands of people could go out, get a cert, and open up a gym of their own for less than 20k- it resulted in a shit load of terrible gyms and a few good ones.
The CrossFit certification doesn’t even teach you how to assess movement on a joint-by-joint basis and determine when someone is ready to perform the patterns that the sport demands. Without that information or experience in applying those principles you end up with a bunch of unqualified people determining whether a high risk, complicated set of exercises and workouts is ‘OK’ for the general population to perform. This has ended in a series of YouTube videos with CrossFitters performing ugly, complex exercises in high reps when they can’t even perform 1 repetition of any exercise properly.
This sort of reality makes it easy for anti-CrossFit coaches to express the dangers of the brand and movement- which they will of course take any opportunity to point out, and rightfully so.
Point 2- Most CrossFit gyms are run by coaches who don’t understand the basics of movement or proper assessing a person’s adequacy in movement patterns. This ends in a mass amount of dysfunctional movers performing loaded exercises under the guidance of a second rate coach that ‘doesn’t get it’. If CrossFit is ever going to gain respect in the coaching community it must teach proper assessing as the most important educational priority, and it must have a system of regulating its professionals.
Good People are Replacing the Bad
I’m not a fan of Greg Glassman, and it may be unfortunate that he was the personality and face behind the creation of CrossFit. He really makes it easy for those who want to point out the fundamental issues with his brand.
But, I don’t have to be a fan of Greg Glassman because the brand has far outgrown him and taken on a life of its own. When I think of CrossFit now, I think of Glen Pendlay, Kelly Starrett, Coach Burgener and soon Dimitry Klokov will join that list (as he is now running Oly-Lifting seminars for CrossFit Athletes).
The brand is drawing in really good coaches- and with that, the standard of the brand will improve. CrossFit will get better, not worse with these sorts of professionals seeing the value in it.
Point 3- CrossFit started with bad leaders, but those leaders are quickly being replaced with quality coaches. You can decide whether you want to have poor Internet mentors, or amazing ones.
CrossFit as a sport is not more dangerous than any contact sport
At Hybrid we don’t promote CrossFit as a means of general fitness for the average population- we promote it as a sport based option for very fit people who want to compete in the sport of CrossFit.
We do this because we can’t justify the average person performing high-risk movements with load when they could get in way better shape safer, and faster with a general mobility and lifting program. However, for those who want to compete in CrossFit as a sport, we treat them just like any other athlete.
I don’t judge boxers, fighters, hockey players, football players, or rugby players for the needless dangers they put themselves in for the sake of competition. How can I- I used to be one of those same athletes?
CrossFit isn’t any different in the sense that you can’t stop people from putting themselves at risk when they want to compete in something- and as a coach it is your job to help them prepare in a way that keeps them as safe as possible for as long as possible.
This is the approach we take at Hybrid. We are taking in athletes who have already decided that CrossFit is something they are going to do. We are merely going to help them compete as safely and as well prepared as possible.
Point 4- CrossFit as a sport is just like any other contact sport and should be treated as such. We are not sensible judges of what sports are ‘good and bad’, and it is our responsibility to help our athletes prepare and keep them safe- not to tell them what sport they can and can’t compete in.
Lastly, I found that in the end CrossFit is really no different than any other set of gyms in the industry- it is merely more popular than most right now and therefore it has greater responsibility and takes greater ‘heat’.
If you go to a big box gym- a goodlife, an LA Fitness, a Golds Gym, or even the majority of small box specialty gyms in North America you are going to find awful trainers, zero culture, no structure, and poor overall instruction. This isn’t a standard that was built by CrossFit- this is a standard that was built by the fitness industry.
There isn’t a single brand or chain of gyms in this world that is well regulated and has a consistent quality of coaching, environment, education, and service. Why would anyone expect that CrossFit would be any different?
It is up to the consumer to wisely determine the quality and effectiveness of any given space- and the smart, diligent people will find one of the very, very few good gyms- and the rushed undereducated person will end up (happily) in a bad one.
The only difference with CrossFit is that the brand is massive and has a ton of affiliates. The ratio of good gyms to bad gyms hasn’t changed- it just happens to be that now the majority of gyms are CrossFit gyms.
Point 5- CrossFit hasn’t increased the amount of bad gyms in this world on a percentage basis- it has merely increased the overall number of gyms in general- thus bringing us a few great places and a lot of bad ones.
I think CrossFit is an excellent choice of sport and training for a small percentage of the population- assuming that the small appropriate population can find a good affiliate with good, safe coaching. That task is just hard to do.
What CrossFit is not, however, is a baseline general fitness program for the average person looking to get in great shape safely and effectively. It is not for athletes of other sports, it is not for the aging population, and it is not for the majority of the population who are deconditioned, immobile, and confused.
Regardless of either of those points you need to sit down and find out what is or isn’t ‘for you’. Write your goals down and logically decide why a certain style of training or movement is your best way to get from A-B.
The process has to be justified in a sensible way- you can’t just convince yourself that something (like CrossFit) is for you merely because you’re set on trying it.
There are lots of bad facilities and coaches in this industry. CrossFit represents a lot of those culprits, but so does every other brand/style of gym in the world. Inform yourself, be diligent, and make your own decisions based off an individualized approach that works for you.