August 2, 2012 posted by

The Problem(s) With CrossFit

“The Problem With…” has been used as a title three times this month. It wasn’t meant to be a theme but I’ve been tossed too many softballs lately not to swing away. The latest, sent by Tony Horton, would be virtual grand slam without any other commentary. But since y’all look to me for a critical eye I’ll add a little play by play to Hamilton Nolan’s inspired rant.

My friend Phil (in vid doing a one-finger one arm pull-up) re-posted this with the comment “I know that someone created CrossFit as a joke to anger me. Take the time to watch the video of the idiot doing 100 ‘pullups,’” which sums of the feeling of many of my friends, that the entire format is a bastardization of the principles of training we’ve been studying all our lives (not that Hitler is a friend but he sums up what most of us are thinking when he says, “What happened to the days when people actually wanted to be strong? When exercise was a science and not just trying to make people puke.”)

But I’m not as bothered as der Fuhrer. I see an upside. In fact I like doing CrossFit workouts. Sure, the WOD of often inane, based more on whims than physical assessment (what possible physical benefits could come from a max deadlift, sprinting around the block and then racing to 50 snatches anyway)? But who am I, once engaging in a race to 10,000 pull-ups, push-ups and Ab Rollers, to critique stupid physical acts? So when I’m not systematically targeting my training I’ll join in for shits and giggles. I’ve got a fast Fran time, even without kipping. Woo-hoo.

Look, I’m all for pushing your limits until you puke. I do it all the time. It’s when these perpetrators start taking themselves seriously, yammering on about “forging elite fitness” when what they’re actually doing is more like a child making up a game to keep busy, that it’s time lay down that law, which is precisely why Nolan’s piece is so entertaining.

“As far as workout fads go, Crossfit is absolutely outstanding,” he begins, weighing both sides objectively. “Because it features actual hard workouts with real exercises that will in fact get you in great shape, as opposed to, you know, fake kickboxing moves, or a glorified dance party, or an expensive contraption that does poorly what could be achieved better and cheaper elsewhere, or something that requires you to look at John Basedow’s face for an extended period of time.”

Compare that to the more scientific example provided by Scott Abel, author of Metabolic Enhancement Training,

“As the name implies Crossfit wants to blend various training modalities to produce an effective workout. Certainly nothing wrong with that, as a general idea. However, Crossfit wants to use various training methods without obeying any of the principles behind these methods.”

Yeah, yeah yeah. Any egghead can make fun of group exercise. Its Nolan’s rapier-sharp wit turns the game into a blood bath. Like Hitler, he goes down the list of why CrossFit will likely be nothing but another exercise fad: group exercise, lack of specificity, too expensive, the whole cult thing, and, of course, the above-mentioned pull-ups…

One of Crossfit’s trademark workouts is “Fran,” which involves doing sets of 21, 15, and 9 pullups. Now: a very, very small percentage of the population is able to do a single set of 21 proper pullups, without stopping. I guarantee you that the majority of NFL football players cannot do this. But since it’s so god damn important to make the numbers in the workout, Crossfit people do 21 kipping pullups instead, and then they’re all, “Yeah, I just did 21 pullups right there.” Yeah, and I can dunk a basketball as long as I’m jumping off a trampoline. Those are not pullups…(they are) like some undulating fish flopping from an iron bar.

But the big problem to me, as he deftly points out, is that you are going to get injured. Not if. When. A physical therapist asked me a few years back, “What the hell is CrossFit? I’ve been flooded with people every since a place opened down the street?” In the name of competition CrossFit promotes probably the three most dangerous things you can do during your training: one-rep max lifts, competition, and compromising form in the name of speed, again captured beautifully by Nolan.

All these timed workouts and competitive spirit and shit where they write your scores on a board and there is constant peer pressure to push yourself harder? You will get injured. You won’t get an Olympic medal or a Super Bowl trophy for this. Just an injury. Enjoy that.

He finished by taking a shot at their elitism, again something that raises the ire of my friends. We’ve been circuit training for decades and if any of us ever uttered the word elite we’d be heaped with endless shame.

Doing burpees or overhead squats or 400 meter runs followed by handstand pushups does not mean you’re “doing Crossfit.” You’re just working out. You don’t own that shit. You bastards.


  • Steve,Do you agree with CrossFit's definition of fitness: work capacity across broad time and modal domains? If not, what is a better way to define and measure fitness?

  • Don Lirette This is to funny check this out!!! HAHAHAHA52 minutes ago · LikeHarriss Warren Lauderdale That was great! Thanks!50 minutes ago via mobile · LikePaula Muhamed-Chavez Lol!!42 minutes ago via mobile · LikeAnna Bannana I enjoyed reading this almost as much as I enjoy sharing baked goods with your wife. Thanks Edwards!

  • Crossfit just says F**k You to the principles of Periodization…What a joke!!??!!

  • Have you actually studied the methodolgy that CrossFit follows or are your conclusions based on some criticisms you've read? The idea behind the workouts is to find the threshold at which you can go quickly AND maintain form. As you get more experienced and fitter that speed tends to increase. Granted, some coaches are not as good or experienced as others and in those instances people will get injured. However, I don't think that is unique to CrossFit. In fact, I think it's very likely that someone pushing themselves to keep up with Shaun T or lift as much weight as Tony is just as likely to sustain an injury. In addition, I think it's very likely some P90X certified trainer out there is going to push the limits of his clients' abilities simply due to lack of experience or knowledge. Putting aside the risks inherent in putting your trust in someone else, I think in general a fitness program carries some risk – it's just the part and parcel of pushing the boundaries of your current fitness level to achieve a higher level. As for those pull ups – would the exercise be more accepted if it was termed "kipping suspended bar movement"? Is the anger and venom heaped at that move about the use of the term "pull up"? Strict pull ups are an integral part of CrossFit workouts (at least they are at the gyms I've visited). The kipping pull ups are simply a way to perform more of them quickly in the context of a timed workout. I would agree that they are not nearly as much of a strength movement as strict pull ups – they are simply another variation of the movement that allows for more repetitions. And, if I'm not mistaken, kipping once failure has been reached is even promoted by Tony in certain contexts (I can clearly remember him looking at the camera and extoling "Kip Away!").I think the bottom line is that people need to approach fitness with the same amount of consideration and thought that they give to other decisions, such as buying a car. If you decide you want to buy a Ford you can go to any number of Ford dealers. Some will be better than others. It is your responsiblity to do the research and find the best dealer. Similarly, if you decide on a Beachbody program, you have to consider your goals and pick the appropriate program. You wouldn't, or shouldn't, choose Asylum if you've been sedentary for 15 years. If you're interested in CrossFit, you'd be best advised to go and talk to the coaches, talk to some of the clients, and watch a few workouts before making you decision.

  • Dan John has a great definition of fitness: "Fitness is simply the ability to do a task."

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  • My definition is having a body that's able to do what you want to do. Broad domains sounds nice but in CF they are defining them, and not all the broadly. Again, though, it's good exercise (if you don't get hurt). It's just not specific unless, what did the author say, "what if you're caught in a burning building and you have to climb out while carrying someone on your shoulders and then run away at top speed and then throw a kettlebell at an angry dog that chased you,"

  • Jon,Agree with you mainly. Kipping "undulating fish" movement isn't bad exercise, it's just not a pull-up. You might be as likely to get hurt keeping up with Shaun if he wrote your reps and time on a board for everyone you're training with to see and told you to keep going until you beat it. But he doesn't do that. CrossFit isn't bad and, in the right place, can be great training. It just has problems. Oh, and I've read the certification manual and found it pretty unimpressive. There's no way to learn everything you'd need to know to run a safe gym from it.

  • "My definition is having a body that's able to do what you want to do"This would imply that fitness is entirely subjective, right? So there would be no way to evaluate or compare fitness programs, nor the relative fitness of athletes, unless they shared the exact same goals.Is someone who only wants to be able to work in a cubicle and watch TV at home, "fit"? He's able to do what he wants to do …As a fitness company how do you design your product if there's no way to objectively define what it is you're supposed to produce? What if you have two athletes who both run a 5:00 mile, but one has a 500 pound deadlift, and the other has a 300 pound deadlift. Which is fitter?Now, let's say you have two guys who both run a 5:00 mile and deadlift 500, but one has 10 consecutive muscle-ups, and the other only has 2. Who's fitter?

  • Why do you need to quantify fitness? You can't. Who is fitter, LeBron or Michael Phelps or Lindsey Vonn or Kilian Jornet? They have different needs from their bodies. This reminds me of the guy who commented on one of my posts about how triathletes were weenies because they couldn't dead lift or jump out of barrels all, mind, you, as an observation during a triathlon about people beating him in a triathlon. There is no one way to train because there is no one way to live your life. The lesson is that if I want to win a triathlon there are better ways to train than deadlifting and jumping out of barrels. I can beat Chris Sharma at basketball. I can out climb Kobe Bryant. I can likely beat the entire NFL in a bike race. Does that make me "fitter" than they are? It's a ridiculous assessment.

  • Russ Greene,IF ReeFit CrossBok AnthosFit, whatever it is called now, has a "definition of fitness" and is measurable, has something that will "dwarf anything ever conceived of in Framingham or Harvard Nurses" etc. THEN for Pete's sake, SHOW US THE STUDIES PUBLISHED IN REPUTABLE, PEER REVIEWED, STANDARD SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS, not just ReeFit CrossBok marketing, blog posts, buzzed chalkboard scribbles, and online I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine "journal".Reply with a bulleted list of such articles, or go away.Thank you sir.

  • Olympics make ReeBok CrossFit look like kids at recess.Man, now Olympic athletes are impressive.

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  • One finger, one arm pull up? You gotta be kidding me! Awesome!"If any of you own board shorts or eat Paleo, get out." Classic!

  • Steve,You did not answer any of my questions. If your blog is in fact a good faith effort to engage in logical discourse and present your views to a critical audience, please scroll above and respond.Now, as for your question: "Who is fitter, LeBron or Michael Phelps or Lindsey Vonn or Kilian Jornet?" My answer is that the fitter athletes of those are more capable of various types of work in many different time domains. In other words, we don't have enough data points on any of the athletes you mentioned in order to evaluate their fitness."Why do you need to quantify fitness? You can't."We measure fitness for the same reason you need to measure how much money you have in your bank account, how heavy your dumbbell is, or how far you have to drive. People measure what matters. It was my impression that you were the "fitness and nutrition advisor" advisor at Beachbody. You do measure the efficacy of your "fitness" products, right? How?If "fitness" is an unmeasurable goal and its definition actually varies from person to person, why does Beachbody sell "Fitness programs" and "fitness gear"? If you're right, fitness a meaningless term! You might as well be in the "giving people what they want to buy" industry.

  • This guy has written 120 articles with "beachbody" in the search engine and 2 with "fitness". I think that should speak volumes about what you should think of his opinion.

  • @Russ – Neither is fitter. One is a better deadlifter, the other is better at muscle ups. Why is this so difficult to comprehend?"we don't have enough data points on any of the athletes you mentioned in order to evaluate their fitness". So Michael Phelps is supposed to conform to Crossfits fitness parameters to be considered fitter than some kook who cheats on every pullup and does speed burpees? Everyone except Crossfitters makes fun of Crossfitters. There's a reason for that and it starts with crappy faux elitism like that.

  • "Reebok is now hiring Affiliate Relationship Managers to represent Reebok programs and products in the CrossFit community. " —> from ReeBok's facebook acct and online job postings. These are, you guessed it, sales positions.

  • But my Fran time is way down!

  • Only fish oil, ReeAnthoBokFit, and Flintstone vitamins are ALL one needs. See?

  • As I sit here injured after my first cross fit class last night, I wish I had read your article sooner. Thanks for the insight and opinion. Agree that it's not all bad, but it definitely was a receipe for me to get hurt….

  • All I have to say is that take your a$$ to the closest affiliate in your city. Do a workout and come back to this blog. Im confused CrossFit is horrible yet you put time and effort to pay attention to everything in that genre of fitness. The things is people like you are bashing on a program that you are not educated about. While you sit here and blog about how much it's horrible check CrossFit gyms in Austin, Texas grossing millions a year which must work! See we are in the USA! I spent 8 yrs in the Army. While in I don't know if you know this out Elite military operations use these methods to build a more elite operator! Maye I'll write my congressman to put Beachbody in Bootcamps for the US Marines. Hahaha! The program is built for General Physical Preperation not to say he is more fit than you! All round good program! Stop wasting your time blogging! Besides your first mistake as a writer is you need to have strong facts which will need you to stop dancing around in your room and get in to some old school mentality of traing that requires work! It was a joke don't get all heated! Keep going hope you attend CF Games 2013 I know you will be in the stands and not on the floor! Good luck with your dance moves!

  • Tony Horton and Shaun T train military a lot. I think the whole P90X crew does regular military tours. I heard Tony has been to bases in Iraq and Afganistan. You should probably check out one of their workouts before calling it dancing because the military seems to like it. From the looks of this Steve might do pretty good at the CF Games

  • Tony Horton and Shaun T, are all much more fit than Glassman. Glassman looks like he's never worked out a day in his life, injury or no.

  • I love how the long time xfitters and xfit staff post on their board defending xfit due to the divorce/Anthos stuff, but they all have a post count of 1 or 2 or some small number.They were obviosuly probably told to rally the troops. Ugh

  • twight, dan john, robb wolf, greg everett, rippetoe, OPT, and prob many others who xfit chewed up and spit out along their wayThis is a good read that needs updating:–_Timeline.html

  • Did somebody seriously just say that you can't prove Michael Phelps is fit unless he does well at CrossFit exercises? WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!

  • The dialogue here seems to indicate that both "camps" are threatened by the other and feel very strongly that it's impreative to bash the other. I simply don't see the reason for that. I think we can all agree that when you push your body to achieve a higher level of fitness there is some inherent risk. I personally tore my rotator cuff during my first round of P90X. Did I blame Tony? Hell no! I understood that injury was possible when I set off to improve my fitness. I also ran into many injured folks on my various rounds through Beachbody events, but again, never encountered anyone that blamed the programs.I think the path you choose to take to achieve fitness is a personal choice based on your temperament, likes, dislikes etc. Some people will be drawn to Beachbody programs, some people to CrossFit. I don't think anybody's choice should be chastised but rather applauded. If you have concerns about a friend's choice then by all means share that opinion – it simply shows that you care. Then let them choose. Both approaches seem to yield results – there are plenty of transformation stories to be found on the web. In addition, Beachbody programs (at least the latest batch, excluding Body Beast 😉 ) and CrossFit probably share quite a bit more in common than you'd think. To its credit, P90X2 seems to focus much more on core fitness and compound, functional movements. So does CrossFit. Perhaps we can all learn something from other approaches if we take the time to study them?

  • Steve,Still no response to my questions?

  • You've been answered, no? When comments get silly I usually stop paying attention. Maybe this is what you want. Sports ARE the parameters we measure ourselves by. That what they are for. Crossfit has invented its own sport but its applications are for that sport specifically–why you don't see Olympians et al using it as training. Not that they have no application elsewhere. It's good training. It's just more dangerous than most training. It isn't more dangerous than most sports, however, so if you define it that way the risk makes sense. But their broad domain claims are over-the-top because they're using their sport to call themselves more elite than others. I'll leave you with an anecdote. I "ran" track at UCLA, at the time the best team in the country. I sucked, at least compared to my Olympian teammates. I was, however, the strongest guy on the team in the weight room. I could out squat, deadlift, pull-up and push-up everyone else (on the distance team). If I wanted to pull the XFit card I could have called myself the only elite athlete in the room but it sure didn't feel that way when I was sucking wind and looking at their heels. I guess I could have signed up for powerlifting but then I'd have been the weakest guy, at least until I got em onto the track.

  • "Crossfit has invented its own sport but its applications are for that sport specifically–why you don't see Olympians et al using it as training."That's not true. Here are a few Olympians using CrossFit that I was able to find in a quick search:Christie Rampone: captain of the US soccer team: Cafaro – Two-time Gold medal winning rower. Huffpost article on her CrossFit training: Anna Tunnicliffe – Gold-medal winning US Sailor who competed in 2008 and 2012. Video of her training: Holley Mangold – US weightlifter. Trained at CrossFit Savannah and did CrossFit workouts for her GPP training.And if you want to talk about other sports, these are two NFL players I found just today: Will Johnson: Wolfe: your point was that CrossFit is not sufficient to train for a specific sport at a high level, that is true of any fitness program, certainly including all Beachbody products as well. All sports require sports specific practice.Lastly, since you claimed, that CrossFit is "more dangerous than most training", what numbers are you basing that statement off of? Or is it just gut instinct?

  • Rippetoe is also pretty dismissive of P90X. He said, "I don't want my muscles confused. I want them to know exactly what they are supposed to adapt to. You do too, if you have a training goal."

  • Sorry Mr. Greene but none of those are real sport. Douche!

  • The arguements on here are pretty funny! I've done the P90X, X2, Insanity, and I have to say that these are some very top notch programs and they work. I'm currently training for SOF and from what I've read alot of the people making it through have been using some form of crossfit, so I'm using 2 crossfit websites for SOF. The first being Rescue Athlete and the other SOFWODS. Both are fantastic and not the typical "I'm elite because I crossfit" They are by guys that are elite and they crossfit. I think that is the main problem with crossfit is that everyone that uses it put off that they're elite and this is where the problem lies.

  • have a couple friends who went off and joined a CF box. one has already been injured multiple times; having to take weeks off. it's proven that people cheat when competing during a workout. and when people cheat they stand a higher chance of injury.i never thought anyone would want to be the best at working out until i saw CF. strange.i don't think anyone clearly touched on what i believe is the biggest problem with CF – there's no structure.

  • i saw some kids trying to do kipping pull ups the other day. stupid. waste of time. look at his hands at the end of the video. that's not healthy.know someone who runs a health spa near a CF box and she says CF has been great for their business. ;)whoever this riptoe person is, is silly. muscle confusion is just a marketing term. your muscles don't have brains. p90x is not magical muscle confusion … it's extremely well designed structure. people don't get the draw dropping results from gym memberships because the membership typically comes with no structure and certainly no nutrition plan. p90x works wonders for those willing to follow the program. a gym membership often lacks a program. Beachbody programs are incredible deals. simple, not confusing. :)im doing p90x2 and i am really excited about the upcoming PAP weeks. there is so much research etc behind this. it's a fantastic program.

  • The primary issue I see with Crossfit is that the system assumes everyone can do the same workouts, and pressures them to do so. The last thing most dudes need is peer pressure in the direction of more risk and less reward.Additionally, there isn't any kind of assessment as to whether certain movements are appropriate for people. Do you have any idea how many people simply squat horribly, and have no business doing heavy lifts for time? Some otherwise healthy people simply have no business squatting with a bar on their backs, and some of the movements they use are skewed toward risk simply because of the need for universal standards. Those GHD situps would be one example.

  • i duno crossfit has become INCREDIBLY popular.
    “doing p90x” is also just, working out. 😉
    plus with the extremely close affiliation steve has with beachbody no wonder it’s criticized.

  • P90X was great for me. So was Insanity, from time to time. I believe I was injured twice doing P90X.. I recently started Crossfit, and it’s simply challenging me in a completely different way. Really enjoying it. I think the trainers are critical. If they’re knowledgeable, conscientious, and sticklers about proper movement and form, then you’re probably in good hands. The kipping thing I don’t get so much. I do strict Pullups until I can’t. Then I use a band. No one suggests I do otherwise, not that I’d care.

    I really don’t get the arguments on either side. At the end of the day, be accountable for yourself as an athlete. Learn about what you’re doing. Know your limits and push them, safely. Yes, Crossfit includes exercises that, untrained, and not scaled/modified for beginners, can be dangerous. Same goes for P90X…the first time I was hurt there was doing YogaX. The second time was doing the side-tri rise.

    Personally I just think it’s great that you love what you’re doing: crossfit, P90X, climbing, rowing, zumba…who gives? Enjoy it, work hard at it, and be smart and take responsibility for your health and training.

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