Fucking Crossfit, how does it work?
August 18, 2010 11:25 AM   Subscribe

What should I know about Crossfit, and what should I be cautious about?

I've got an introductory session at a Crossfit gym scheduled tomorrow, and I want to make sure I'm asking the right questions and checking on the right things before I sign up for anything. What should an extremely out of shape but uninjured, relatively healthy, 23 year old female pescatarian know or find out about doing Crossfit/this whole paleo thing? Extra bonus points if you know anything about Crossfit Portland, about which I've heard only great things thus far. Thank you!

(I've already seen http://ask.metafilter.com/31318/Crossfit-for-beginners but thought an update would be in order considering Crossfit's growing popularity.)
posted by verbyournouns to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Crossfit seems to go hand-in-hand with injury, and their cavalier attitude towards serious overexertion should cause you to tread cautiously.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:31 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know about Portland, but in Austin there are problems with trainers disregarding the actual safety of the participants, i.e. having them run in the street in the dark with no reflectors or lights, having them pump iron basically in the middle of an intersection, etc.
posted by elpea at 11:37 AM on August 18, 2010


Every Crossfit gym is different. NYC has several within a five mile radius that are extremely varied. As a woman, I would ask to talk to other women at the gym to ask about their experiences. Some gyms do have an overly macho attitude that can a. lead to injuries b. be unpleasant.
posted by melissam at 11:39 AM on August 18, 2010


The first thing to remember is that you know your body and its capabilities better than a guy with an MD and a PhD in exercise science and fifty years of experience as a physical therapist and blah blah blah. If you think you'll get hurt, then you're probably right, and if the lunkhead screaming at you to not be a wimp doesn't believe you, well, screw him. There's a distinct difference between "You can do it! One more rep!" and "COME ON YOU PANSY I DON'T CARE IF YOU ALREADY PUKED TWICE KEEP LIFTING." You can be pushed without being shoved.
posted by Etrigan at 11:44 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


My friend does CrossFit in Santa Monica and loves it. I know people here in the ATL who also love it and swear by it (and I'm considering it myself). Read my California friend's thoughts/experiences on CrossFit here.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:45 AM on August 18, 2010


There seems to be a high amount of crossover between the CrossFit crew and the "paleo" movement in fitness and nutrition. While some of the paleo insights seem intuitively appealing, very little rigorous empirical work has been conducted to investigate the long-term consequences of such fitness regimes. A dominant CrossFit attitude seems to be to ignore injury, to embrace extreme exertion, and to reject any "conventional wisdom" about fitness -- granted, there is a surfeit of bad empirical work on fitness, but baby and the bathwater and all that. I have seen many CrossFit message board posters advising people to "train through" serious ligament damage and to focus on making injuries hurt more because that means "the blood is getting there" to heal the injury. This is reckless and risks making temporary injuries into permanent ones.
posted by proj at 11:45 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know a few people who swear by Crossfit. One guy has seen great results with it. He's lifted weights his whole life (and looks like it) and knows what he is doing, but said he made more gains doing Crossfit than any other regime. With that said, he also emphasized that he has done well because his leader/organizer/whatever they call it also knows what he is doing and pays very close attention to everyone's form, making sure that they do every movement correctly. My friend said that he has gone to workouts at other facilities where this is not the case, and that these places should be avoided as they will almost certainly lead to injuries.
posted by synecdoche at 11:48 AM on August 18, 2010


Paleolithic Diet Published Research.

Most people I know quit not because of injury, but because for a minimalistic workout, the monthly fees are a bit high.
posted by melissam at 11:50 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Know that the quality of Crossfit trainers varies wildly from gym to gym. Crossfit is not a franchise, so there is no quality control of affiliation--you pretty much need to pay $1000 for a weekend course, $2000 for an affiliation fee, and bam, you're qualified.

A trainer will know more about compound movements than a guy at your local Chain Gym who will put you on bicep curl machines for thirty minutes followed by thirty minutes of cardio, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing--those movements, practiced incorrectly, can set you up for a lot more injury than machines (which is why machines are so popular in the first place--less chance for a gym to get sued).

These are some questions I would ask:

"Do you follow any kind of "On-Ramp" or introductory movement curriculum?"

"On-Ramp" refers to a program developed by a relatively large Crossfit affiliate meant to take beginners through basic movements and workouts to ensure they develop good mobility and form before being thrown full-bore into high-volume, high-intensity conditioning sessions. The affiliate may not follow the specific "On-Ramp" protocol, but if they don't have some kind of mandatory introductory form sessions (MORE THAN ONE OR TWO) then that's a warning sign the trainers do not take seriously the importance of proper form and adequate mobility as injury prevention methods.

"What steps do you take to ensure your members don't injure themselves? If a member's form clearly deteriorates during a heavy weighted workout, do you stop them or drop the weight? If a member comes in and wants to work out through an injury, do you scale the workout or allow them to do whatever?"

Again, this question addresses how seriously trainers take injury prevention. The high-rep nature of many Crossfit workouts (like doing hundreds of pull-ups in a workout) leave members ripe for repetitive stress injuries. A trainer who encourages a client to work through these types of injuries is incredibly irresponsible. Similarly, a trainer who sees a client with severely worsening form through a workout (say, really badly performed deadlifts) and does not stop the client or tell them to scale the weight down is putting that client at risk for injury. Glorification of those who work through severe pain and injury and acceptance of long-term damage in order to complete a workout is a downfall of a fitness model that encourages a "hardcore" approach to exercise.

"How do you tailor workouts towards the specific needs of your clients? How do you assess these needs, and if a client comes with a specific performance-related goal (say competing in powerlifting or something) how do you tailor programming accordingly?"

A trainer who tells you that Crossfit workouts are appropriate for everybody, no matter their individual mobility or past injury issues, is a bad trainer. A trainer who says a runner and powerlifter should be training the same way and doing the same workouts is a bad trainer. A trainer who says a 50-year-old guy who has been sedentary all his life with severe flexibility issues should be doing the same exercise prescription and has the same needs as the DIII college athlete visiting for the summer is a bad trainer.

-------------------------------

Additionally, I would question all trainers carefully about their athletic and training backgrounds and other certifications. Someone whose sole source of knowledge comes from a bevy of Crossfit certifications (which are also run in the "Pay $600, we'll give you a piece of paper at the end of the weekend" model) is far less likely to be a good source of quality fitness information than someone who, say, is NSCA-certified, competed as a shot-putter and worked as a track-and-field coach for a number of years then acquired a Crossfit certification in order to help open their own gym. Crossfit can be a very insular community and it can be very easy to get caught up in the "Crossfit" way of doing things--someone with background from other sports and strength-and-conditioning areas may have a more open mind to different types of training methods and not toeing the Crossfit party line.

Remember--you're probably going to be paying for a lot ($150/month, usually) for this gym. Crossfit owners will argue the expense is justified because you're getting regular group training workouts. So you are entitled to make sure that training you're getting is quality, not just someone yelling at you to do more burpees even if your wrist is broken.
posted by schroedinger at 12:02 PM on August 18, 2010 [15 favorites]


Done right Crossfit provides an outstanding functional fitness oriented workout. But, as with all fitness classes, you have to watch out for a bad instructor. This is often unrelated to whatever the state of their formal credentials so that if you are new to fitness, you are unlikely to be able to spot a bad instructor unless it's blatant. Just be mindful of the difference between fatigue soreness and injury pain.

Crossfit has a reputation of being loaded down with arrogant asshats. I think that's probably gym specific. At the Crossfit center nearest me I have never met a member I didn't want to punch in the face. But that shouldn't prejudice you.

Crossfit is worth a try, just keep in mind that you can and should walk away if:
1) it gets too expensive
2) it seems to be physically risky
3) you are constantly surrounded by raging douche-nozzles
posted by dzot at 12:18 PM on August 18, 2010


I am doing crossfit and I was definitely not fit nor anywhere near slim when I started 6 months ago (now more fit and a bit less pudgy). These are my experiences:
1) Some trainers/instructors, imho, do push people a bit past what is safe or best for them. however, the core culture of my gym - and that of the owner & manager is to scale appropriately - reps or weight or whatever. Depending on the gym or individual instructor, you may have to speak up about what you can & can't do. Others will be rally encouraging you to start "low and slow".
2) My gym has seminars about paleo eating but no one is pushed to do it really. It was mentioned in the intro a few times but it's not aggressively pushed at all. I do not do paleo myself.
3)The camaraderie at my gym has been great. I have been, ad still am sometimes, haunted by my chubby 8th grade self who was afraid of being patronized or laughed at for failure to do a push-up. Crossfit has NEVER been like that even on the days when the class is me & a 6 guys who could be professional athletes. They are all encouraging.
4) My favorite thing has been getting not only smaller but stronger and I have much better balance. My daily living (carrying groceries, using the stepladder, etc) has improved a lot.
5) I have learned a lot of neat stuff: a way to do sit-ups that doesn't hurt my back, modifications for lots of exercises, working different muscles, etc.

Overall, I think Crossfit is not perfect but I have learned a lot and I enjoy it much. Good luck; maybe it will be right for you.
posted by pointystick at 12:20 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know nothing about CrossFit. However, I did run across this blog entry of a fitness nerd chronicling his experience there during a 1-visit trial run. You may find it helpful.
posted by Vorteks at 12:44 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


What are you hoping to get out of crossfit? What are your goals? That's something you should know before starting.

I think for the average person who wants to be healthier\gain better mind muscle utilization\etc it's better than if they ended up just using the machines in some gym. It's probably the only super popular training program that even has people moving in the right direction.

With that said, I think their workouts are sort of a pain in the ass compared to doing a 3 a week structured barbell routine with some cardio thrown in. But if you're just looking for general fitness give it a shot.

If you get into a good crossfit gym though you'll have a nice team environment and it will help push yourself compared to lifting on your own. They pump out some absolutely amazing looking women (the dudes just usually are bit too small on average, IMO...)

As far as the injuries -- your muscles are going to progress much faster than your tendons do esp. with how much high rep crap they have people doing. Really listen to your tendons and joints. If they are saying they've had enough then they've had enough and need recovery.

The one negative thing I'll say is kipping pullups are stupid. =] Strict form chins\pulls are such an amazing full body exercise already. Kipping is basically all metabolic. conditioning.
Try doing chins with your legs sticking straight out in an L seat and you have the best ab workout ever.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:00 PM on August 18, 2010


I've been doing Crossfit (Crossfit Seattle) for 2.5yrs now, and it's the best thing that's ever happened to me. I have my father, mother, and aunt all doing Crossfit now as well, and it's been great for them too. I've seen incredible results from the workouts, the group classes keep me motivated, and I like not having to plan the workouts.

As others mention, each gym (and even trainer) is different. It pays to visit different gyms and attend different classes with various trainers to see who you feel comfortable with.

The workouts will always be challenging, but a good gym/trainer will always have options available to scale the workout to your own ability level, and/or adapt the workout to any constraints you have (like my buddy who sprained his ankle playing kickball and can't do any running workouts).

There is also a very active online community forum with many beginners and great information: http://board.crossfit.com/ It's well worth reading past threads.

My strongest advice is to get started slowly, the biggest mistake that beginners make is to jump in too fast and injure themselves. This is especially true for former athletes who used to be in great shape but are no longer. Start with 2x a week, once you're no longer sore every day then try 3x a week. Ideally you'll work up to 4-5x a week unless you pick up other fitness activities.
posted by jpeacock at 1:02 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Crossfit is like any new workout regime; you have to build up to it and be careful. If you don't know how to do a movement then you need to learn how. Go slow. Scale the workouts down and don't let anyone convince you that you should start by doing them as rx'ed if you can't...that's how you get messed up.

There are two sides to the attitude that leotrotsky talks about...the flip side is that the culture is one that pushes you to do your best and work hard. I think there is a bit of this talk that is just meant to scare some people away, but the best CrossFit trainers and athletes certainly aren't pushing themselves to puke or get rhabdo every time they do a WOD...they wouldn't be able to function, they wouldn't be able to DO these crazy workouts. They trained up just like everyone has to. For every stupid t-shirt you can find a dozen warnings on the FAQ or forums talking about the right way to scale, which exercises you have to be careful of and why, etc. etc. So you should take the blustery talk you find within the CrossFit community...as well as the criticisms from people outside who don't get it or choose to see only this one aspect, both with a grain (bucket) of salt.

Also, you can hurt yourself plenty just going to the gym without knowing what you are doing, or starting endurance running, or biking, or any sort of lifting...exercise is dangerous, period. The amount you are willing to educate yourself is the difference between getting hurt and not, I'm convinced. Don't rely on ANY system or outside individual to provide this safety for you, you must be an active and engaged participant in your own exercise plan.

Based on what I've heard (see below), I'll agree with variability of CF trainers and gyms. I think the certification process is relatively simple so it's not terribly hard to become certified. If I were you, I'd try following the main-site WODs for a while–scaled as needed–and see how it feels, what stuff you find easier and what is tougher for you. Don't do exercises that you don't understand how to do and where it seems like you may hurt yourself; find someone who can help you with the exercises you aren't comfortable with, and I also think a copy of Starting Strength is a good investment for some of the basic lifts, like squatting and deadlifting.

I like the (scaled-down form of) CrossFit that I do. I love it. Sometimes I get done with a workout and I am elated. I love how much stronger I've become, and how I can do shit I never thought I'd be able to in my life (multiple sets of weighted pull-ups!?)–that's my favorite aspect, the challenging myself to do something and realizing it really is all in my head (except when it's not, of course...but it really is more often than I think). It's different every day which is fun, I am in better shape than I've been in my life, I feel great most of the time, and I've never hurt myself doing CrossFit. I've hurt myself because of my own stupidity, but never because of CrossFit. Bring some intelligence to it and you'll be fine.

Disclaimer: I've NEVER been to an official CF gym. I've worked out with others who do CrossFit, some of whom do go to these gyms. But generally I do this on my own. At this stage, after I guess about a year and a half of following the main site WODs (starting from pretty loosely to now almost religiously), I probably do half of them as rx'ed. I'm a not-super-strong 34-year-old male who is also 5'6" and I have to scale all of the lifting down to work for me. But I am super fast at all the stuff that involves sprinting, rowing, double-unders, etc., and I'm not terrible on the metcons at this point, although I still have a ways to go.

Anyways, good luck, feel free to ping me if you want any other info I may be able to provide based on my experience...
posted by dubitable at 1:02 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


The one negative thing I'll say is kipping pullups are stupid. =] Strict form chins\pulls are such an amazing full body exercise already. Kipping is basically all metabolic. conditioning.

Not to digress too much, zephyr_words, especially since this subject has been beaten to death elsewhere, but that's the point.

Now muscle-ups, on the other hand...
posted by dubitable at 1:08 PM on August 18, 2010


My father got bit hard by the Crossfit bug when he started teaching at the local police academy. Some of the recruits got really into it for awhile, until they entered a local event and two of them ended up with rhabdomyolysis and one nearly ended up in kidney failure. Now, the academy isn't allowing Crossfit anywhere near the recruits on campus.

My perceptions (before and after this happened) were that Crossfit seemed a little bit like a fitness cult and that perhaps they push people too hard towards goals they might not be ready to reach for just yet.
posted by honeybee413 at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah dubitable, I probably shouldn't have even mentioned that. I obviously understand the point. I just think that it shouldn't be the default form of a pullup for most of the WOD. Use it as an assistance exercise if you must.
At least they didn't go with the butterfly kip.
I follow a rule by Jim Wendler which is to ask yourself, is this exercise awesome? If it's not then do something else. I'm a big fan of muscle-ups and they are awesome. =]
Anyway, everyone else please pretend like I didn't even write anything about kipping. Doing something is usually better than nothing.

verbyournouns, you may find these two videos interesting.
I've been to two different "official" cross-fit gyms and I think these represent the intensity and the type of work you'll be performing.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:32 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did Crossfit for 2 months and loved it (I have an unrelated back injury now that I'm working on so I don't do Crossfit anymore). My ex goes to Crossfit Portland and loves it, but she did say that when she visited my CF (in Cali) that it was a lot nicer and more organized than CF Portland. Then again, I paid almost twice as much per month. One thing with CF Portland (and I'm sure a lot of other affiliates) is that they do the same workout all day on a given day. So if you want to come in the morning and in the afternoon, it's going to be the same. My gym, on the other hand, had a class that I went to early in the morning and then my trainer gave me a custom workout in the afternoon. Other times of the day (which I did not attend) were also similarly varied.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 1:36 PM on August 18, 2010


Oh yeah, and if you can find a gym with a Level II trainer. The process of getting that CrossFit certification is more rigorous.
posted by schroedinger at 1:37 PM on August 18, 2010


*if you can find a gym with a Level II trainer go there over ones without
posted by schroedinger at 1:38 PM on August 18, 2010


Although many of the linked photos are inappropriate and the thread is rather insider, pretty much everything there is to say about Crossfit (even positive stuff), from the propensity of high volume kipping pullups to cause SLAP injuries to the benefits of getting at least skinnyfat americans up and moving around has been said in "the couch thread."

Which may be found here.

Having gone to a crossfit gym for around 2 years at this point, I will say that the lack of strength bias is a big problem, as is the weird cult-like focus on the "Games" (working out.. poorly .. as a sport?), but for the most part you get out of it what you put into it _both_ in terms of fitness _and_ in terms of injury prevention. When the main site or coach calls for one of the particularly stupid crossfitisms (like handstand pushups on the rings) finally you are responsible for asking yourself, "What is the expected benefit of this workout? What is the level of risk? Is the expected benefit proportional to effort at all, or in context, to a workout I could do instead?"

There is a lot of really stupid, insane "stupid human tricks" stuff that seems to show up on the mainsite to the extent that one wonders if some of what they're posting (one legged overhead squats, for example) is some sort of joke or psychology department experiment, but in general doing weights and cardio for 20-40 minutes a day is going to _on average_ do you some good.

The gym I go to has what appears to be the standard injury distribution -- people who went crazy with explosive moves now have some amount of back injuries -- herniations seem common to obsessive high-rep workouts featuring back extensions or sit-ups. Bad form is extremely common in both this gym and the other crossfit gyms I have visited. Wrist injuries are fairly common, shoulder issues a plenty for the kipping fanatics. Thrusters in my experience, including witnessing the 2009 games, seem to be almost universally executed in extremely poor form leading to lower back injuries, ditto doing high-volume deadlifts after fatiguing the muscles using other exercises.

The important part is a willingness to say "no, this is stupid, I'm going to substitute this instead" or "yes, I'm glad you're pushing me, but I'm going to scale the weight since we're doing 75 reps of snatches and I actually want to use my shoulders after age 35."
posted by rr at 2:52 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a lot that could be said here. I trained at a Crossfit affiliate for several months last year, but I stopped going there and continued training on my own because it wasn't helping me reach my goals. Some friends of mine recently opened up their own Crossfit affiliate. I currently train at an excellent facility that was a Crossfit until they de-affiliated last year. The owner wrote an article about why he de-affiliated which I'd encourage you to read. He brings up a lot of good points about the problems with the system.

There are certainly things that Crossfit gets right -- it's ostensibly based around hard work at basic movements, like any effective strength and conditioning program should be. If you join a Crossfit affiliate, you have a decent chance of learning how to perform the fundamental lifts correctly -- certainly a much better chance than you would if you paid for personal training at a chain gym.

However, there are a lot of drawbacks to consider, aside from the expense. Like folks have said, affiliate quality varies a lot. The problem is that trying to find a good affiliate when you're a total novice is kind of a Catch-22 -- you don't have the skills to really evaluate the effectiveness of a trainer or a program without already knowing a bunch of the stuff that you want them to teach you.

I also think there are basic problems with their approach to programming. Despite the way they'll talk about scaling workouts, it's still basically one-size fits all. You can substitute movements and lower weights, but everyone in a class is doing the same workout. The problem is that people have different goals and different backgrounds, and a single workout isn't necessarily going to be the most effective one for all of those different trainees. Not everyone that trains needs to be doing e.g. handstand pushups or kipping pullups or clean and jerks (as quickly as possible) or whatever. I think there are some people for whom Crossfit workouts, or something like them, is the best way for them to train. MMA fighters, military-types, fire fighters, people with certain training backgrounds, maybe. But if you just want to gain muscle, or get lean, or build your endurance, or get really strong, I think there are more direct (and cheaper) routes to take.

Crossfit has a "jack of all trades" approach to fitness. Some people find that appealing, while others would be quick to add "and master of none." Crossfit will make you row, and lift, and do gymnastics, and if you've never done those things before you'll get better at all of them for awhile, but it won't make you into a Rower, a Lifter, or a Gymnast. That may not matter to you now, but once you gain some training experience and develop some concrete goals it may start to matter.

TL;DR: Joining a Crossfit affiliate can be a good opportunity to expose yourself to different types of training and receive some quality coaching. However, I don't think it's worth the expense, and I don't think Crossfit workouts are the best way for most people to reach their goals. If it's Crossfit vs. doing nothing, or Crossfit vs. Bodypump, do Crossfit. But ultimately I think you're better off educating yourself and training on your own, at least for awhile.

On preview: Oh man, rr posted the IGX thread. Beware. But his comment is good, listen to him.
posted by JohnMarston at 3:27 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


This was all very, very helpful--thanks, everyone! I think I have a much better idea of what to investigate and be wary of when I head over tomorrow now, and I appreciate the context and ideas you shared. I know that the gym does have a 3x-a-week 3-week OnRamp program, which should be a helpful intro.
posted by verbyournouns at 3:28 PM on August 18, 2010


Howdy. I haven't read through all of the responses yet, because from the early ones, I could tell they were just going to cloud my response. Instead I'm going to respond to you as if you just e-mailed me your question. If I have time, I'll go back and comment on what other people have said.

Some background: I am a 41-year-old Portland-based desk-bound geek. I'm 5' 8-1/2" tall and on January 1st, I weighed 213 pounds. I was clinically obese. I was sedentary and ate like crap. I made a vow to myself this year that I'd get into shape, with a secondary goal of losing 50 pounds.

For three months, I tried to get into shape by going to the local gym. (I live in Milwaukie, just south of Portland, so I was going to Nelson's Nautilus.) I never mustered the discipline to stick with it. Plus, I didn't like the stuff I was doing. (I was following the Body for Life program.) In years past, I've enjoyed running and cycling and even some weight-lifting, but nothing seemed to click with me this year, and I was floundering.

A friend suggested that I join Crossfit. There's no affiliate close to me. Crossfit Portland is 20 minutes away, so is the one in Clackamas, and so is the one in Lake Oswego. Ultimately, I decided to give the Lake Oswego affiliate a try, though I wasn't expecting much. I especially wasn't expecting much when I showed up at 6:30am one morning in late march to find a bunch of gym stuff tucked into a tiny little room. But I gave it a chance. I did one week of workouts, and felt like shit. Cody, the owner of Crossfit Excellence tailored each of the workouts to my own skill level (or lack thereof). While there were a few buff men and women in the class, I wasn't one of them. While they did tons of push-ups, I did inclined push-ups. While they lifted tons of weight, I lifted just the bar. If Cody noticed that I was struggling with something, he worked with me to correct it. And after a week, I agreed to do the on-ramp program.

I've been doing Crossfit for almost five months now. I've dropped from 213 pounds to 179 pounds at this morning's weigh-in. I'm still not very strong, but I'm getting there. I can do about 25 quality push-ups. I did 2-1/2 great pull-ups this morning (whereas I needed the heaviest band for assistance in March, and even then it was tough). When we do weigh-lifting workouts, I do very light weights. But when we do interval type stuff, like we did today, I'm usually okay. And through it all, Cody coaches and guides me on form and injury prevention. (I hurt my back at home last weekend, so he's been helping me modify workouts this week to prevent further damage.)

So, I'm very pleased with Crossfit, at least Crossfit as it's practiced in Lake Oswego. (I can't speak to any other facility; I've never tried anywhere else.) Classes are small (usually 3-5, with rare instances of 12 when everyone decides to come at the same time on the same day). Workouts are intense, but they're tailored to your skill level. Nobody in my gym is too intense; they're all supportive of each person at his or her skill level. (There are a ton of women at the L.O. Crossfit.)

Despite how much I like Crossfit, there are things I don't like. The whole obsession with the paleo/zone diet is bizarre. The science and anthropology behind paleo is dubious at best. I don't buy into it, so I don't practice it. I get some ribbing from the other folks at CF, but not much. (I try to eat Real Food -- I'm all about Michael Pollan's philosophy as laid out in In Defense of Food.) Also, I still feel awkward with the weight-lifting stuff. Cody and my fellow gym members try to coach me, but I feel out of my element. Maybe that's just because I've never done anything like this before? Also, it's fucking expensive.

So, what should you know about Crossfit? Different gyms have different cultures. If you don't like Crossfit Portland, look around at the other options in town. And yes, you can do almost all of this stuff at home. (One fellow joined the L.O. outfit for a couple of months just to learn the methods; now he's set up his own gym at home.) There are some folks who are very intense about this stuff, but not everyone is. The key is to know your body and to go at your own pace. Also, the paleo diet is not a requirement, though many Crossfitters follow it.

What should you be cautious about? First of all, don't over-exert yourself. As with any physical activity, you can hurt yourself if you try too much too fast. If something doesn't feel right, don't do it. Also be cautious about buying into any sort of dogma about nutrition. If you want to do paleo/zone, then do it. But don't feel obligated.

I'm glad I found Crossfit. Sure, I could have lost 34 pounds and improved my fitness doing other stuff -- in fact, I've biked almost 700 miles this summer, which has certainly been a big part of my revitalization -- but I love the variety of the Crossfit workouts, and I love that every day they challenge me to try something I never thought I could do.

Good luck!
posted by jdroth at 4:34 PM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Now that I've read all the responses: Schroedinger's answer is awesome. Ask those questions. Also, I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have to the best of my ability (and as a Crossfit newbie). Just drop me a line.
posted by jdroth at 5:05 PM on August 18, 2010


Nth'ing Schroedinger's answer. I'm a lifetime runner/triathlete/bike racer who has been crossfitting about five days a week for the last 2.5 years. Based on your initial question and the information you added midstream, there are a couple of things from Schroedinger's answer that I would reiterate or add to:

- A 3x3 on-ramp is a good sign. There are about 35-ish exercises/movements that come up regularly in crossfit, plus some oddball stuff that comes up rarely. Some of the movements are pretty complex and require a lot of practice to learn. One of the goals of the on-ramp is to get you to the point where you can safely participate in a workout with others. The learning curve is long.

- Crossfit isn't for everyone. No official numbers are published, but the rule of thumb is 80% turnover. The people I mostly see sticking around over the long haul skew towards ex-athletes and people who depend on fitness for a living (law enforcement, military, firefighters). If you aren't loving it by the end of the on-ramp, it probably isn't going to happen for you. I've tried to convert some of my running and triathlon buddies, so far my track record is 0 for 5.

- Crossfit is expensive. Schroedinger mentioned $150 a month; in my metro area, that is at the low end of the scale.

- Ignore the paleo for now. Yes, there is a lot of affinity in the crossfit community with paleo and zone diets; worry about that after you've been crossfitting for a year.

- The Crossfit model works best if you go often. Crossfit has something in common with tennis and golf: there is enough complexity that if you only do it sometimes you'll spend all of your time re-learning movements.

- Crossfit is great if you have a "type A" personality. One thing that is universal is that every workout is measured in time or rounds completed or pounds and you write your numbers on a whiteboard. So every single day in the gym is a public competition. Depending on how you are wired, that can be either a plus or minus.

- The Crossfit philosophy is to set the bar for elite athletes, and then scale down as needed. Doing the workout as received ("Rx") is the goal, but for many crossfit regulars, that just isn't reality. Don't be discouraged if you have to scale everything down to complete the workouts; my message here is that is the norm, rather than the exception.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by kovacs at 6:19 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, I just wanted to add a few things after re-reading regarding diet, since I didn't address it in my previous post.

I've only barely ever thought about the whole paleo thing. Which is funny for me, because I think a lot about diet, but what I've settled on came from reading the "Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle" ebook years ago (which I'll leave as an exercise for you to Google and I won't link to because it is a hateful e-marketing site that talks to you...it is an utter abomination). Mr. Venuto's advice (while generally oriented towards body-building) is pretty solid, and has a surprising amount of similarity to Michael Pollan's simple philosophy of eating "around the perimeter of the grocery store," a.k.a. avoiding processed foods, simple sugars, etc. etc. There's certainly more to it (especially structuring your meals in smaller portions 5-6 times a day) than that but to be in good shape I don't believe is rocket science: stay away from crap and find a diet that will really work for you in the long term—and let yourself splurge once in a while if that allows you to stick with it. If that's the paleo diet, great! But eating a wide variety of foods, getting decent proportions of the main macro-nutrients (protein, carbs, fat) from relatively unprocessed foods (the further from a factory the better) will suit most of us fine...compared to the shit most Americans eat. Focus on that and you'll be miles ahead.

Also, with CrossFit, especially the metcon workouts, I find I eat more 'cause I'm burning more.

I also always think of this when I think of diet:
It is the author's fourth contention that nothing in the way of a special diet is required . . . so long as a reasonably well-balanced diet is provided.


So, there. Take it as you will. Bottom line: stay away from any attitude that is too dogmatic, whether we're talking fitness or diet. Find something healthy that works for you and that you'll stick with. Don't beat yourself up about dropping the ball once in a while. In fact, you'll be better off with CrossFit eating a bit more fat than not.

Again, good luck with all this. And great thread folks—I love the comments people have made, it's helped me in my thinking about CrossFit too. I don't know that I've ever seen such great, balanced commentary on CrossFit.
posted by dubitable at 6:56 PM on August 18, 2010


I just read the article that JohnMarston linked to about the affiliate who resigned his Crossfit status. Wow, you should definitely read it, OP. Based on what I've heard secondhand from my ex (who attends CF Portland), this "one size fits all" approach sounds like exactly what CF Portland does since (as I mentioned in my previous comment) they do the same workout/class hour after hour each day. My former CF gym (in Cali), on the other hand, was all about personal training and small groups (e.g. one trainer per 5-10 people)... they also all had previous experience as personal trainers and are accomplished athletes. I paid $300 per month and I think CF Portland charges something in the range of $150. I don't know the background of the CF Portland trainers, but you should definitely ask. I'd also inquire why they do the same workout hour after hour instead of mixing it up and adapting to the group needs.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 8:05 PM on August 18, 2010


What should you know: Crossfit will tax your system, it's a hell of a workout and you will get stronger.

What you should be cautious about: it's easy to really get injured. Watch yourself: you know your body best. Speak up if you need to, and don't be shy about it.

My two cents: if you're looking for all-around fitness (so you can climb a rope, jump up high, lift heavy things), Crossfit is good. If you're looking to lose weight or run a marathon, do something else. Crossfit's pretty tough on the system, and while it can get you strong, so can a whole lot of other things.
posted by zennish at 8:29 PM on August 18, 2010


(full disclosure: been crossfitting for about 2 years; been to a level 1 cert)

While there's some good information in this thread, I don't think anyone has spoken very well on Crossfit's behalf, and a couple of things have been repeated that are simply incorrect.

"First mechanics; then consistency; then intensity" is Crossfit's mantra from Day 1, whether you are a trainer, a professional athlete, or brand new to the gym. Anyone who claims that Crossfit is or must be associated with injury or inappropriate movement technique because the best Crossfit athletes perform difficult workouts quickly either hasn't been in a Crossfit gym or was in a bad one and didn't care to learn more about what Crossfit is. The training that you will receive at the average Crossfit gym in the basic barbell lifts, which the strongest people in the world agree are generally the best way to become strong, is drastically better than the training you will receive at the average "big box" gym.

Prescribing the "same workout" to an entire population of clients does not mean that your approach is "one size fits all"--in fact, in most Crossfit gyms, the approach behind and effect of a single workout a day are quite the opposite. Scaling of load, reps, movements, rounds, and time happens in literally every Crossfit gym every day. What Crossfit philosophically eschews is the attitude that fitness level or lack of confidence should interfere with an individual's attempt to improve at classes of functional movements. What you don't hear in a Crossfit gym is "Today, our advanced athletes will be doing overhead squats, while the old, weak, and inflexible will be performing leg presses, because they are easier." When the workout calls for overhead squats, you work whatever you can related to overhead squats: advanced athletes might overhead squat twice their bodyweight; intermediate athletes much less; and beginning athletes might practice with a dowel and box, or practice a simple air squat if they are not yet proficient enough to practice the overhead version of the movement. The idea is that you don't walk into the gym and think "Oh, I could never do a pull up. I could never snatch like an olympic lifter. Why bother trying?" The answer Crossfit offers is that you can improve your proficiency at scaled versions of these movements (even if you'll never, ever be able to perform their basic versions) and in doing so you will improve your overall fitness better than you would by avoiding them and doing less difficult movements instead.

Which brings me to two other points: 1) Crossfit does not simply exploit the novice effect, as some above have suggested, and 2) Crossfit dogmatically advocates for improved fitness, not a set way of achieving it. Here's someone I workout with at my gym. That's not "the novice effect." The beginning of his transformation was the novice effect; the person in the second picture is very strong and very fit because Crossfit continues to work beyond the novice effect.

Additionally, what Crossfit is attempting to do is to define fitness and figure out the best way of achieving it. Lots of the people who criticize Crossfit do so by criticizing straw men. They don't know what fitness is and they don't put themselves in the position of trying to figure out the best way to achieve it. Think you have a better definition of fitness? Propose it. Think Crossfit's definition is good, but its methods do not produce the fittest athletes? Propose improved methods. Finally, think the best Crossfit athletes are not fit and strong? Try doing the workouts they do.

While it's true that proficiency across many domains is a hallmark of an elite Crossfit athlete, it's explicitly false that Crossfit "won't make you into a Rower, a Lifter, or a Gymnast." EC Synkowski rowed the 21st fastest time in the world at the most recent indoor rowing championships with no formal training in rowing and while simply doing Crossfit. I'm not saying at all that it's Crossfit's goal to produce the best rowers in the world--this is explicitly not Crossfit's goal. It just so happens that committed Crossfit athletes can show up at the indoor world rowing championships and defeat most of the athletes there. Why? Because the pursuit of increased intensity (which many above have been quick to disparage) necessitates increased metabolic output, and across athletic endeavors, those with the greatest strength and capacity for metabolic output win.

Finally, it's no longer true that you can become certified as a Crossfit trainer without taking an exam. Those who were previously level 1 certified without taking an exam will lose their certifications if they don't take the exam within roughly the next year.
posted by holympus at 9:47 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've been doing CrossFit for over two years and I completely agree that CrossFit "won't make you into a Rower, a Lifter, or a Gymnast." despite what holympus has said. Sorry, it just isn't going to happen. An indoor rowing event doesn't make a person a rower. The winners of the games aren't the fittest people in the world.

Couch has a habit of spewing bullshit like this constantly (remember his old comment about CrossFit and Deadlifting?) but in spite of all this I still do the program. Why? Assuming you get into a good affiliate it really is a great general conditioning program. You'll see major increases in your strength, endurance and coordination. You will learn new skills. It's really a wonderful introduction into all sorts of sports and events you never thought you'd be able to do.

Finally, stop saying that CrossFit defined fitness. Couch co-opted that definition from the dudes who own Dynamax.
posted by Loto at 7:03 AM on August 19, 2010


I'll just add this: one always has to be careful when looking to the success of a few gifted individuals for evidence of the efficacy of a training program. It does not necessarily follow that because a person did a certain program and produced a certain result that the result was because of the program or that the program is the most efficient way to produce the result. Some people are naturally very gifted in specific areas and can excel on any number of training protocols, or can excel despite training inefficiently. Some people do things concurrently with a training program that produce results which then get attributed to the program -- a person who has never paid attention to their nutrition but starts doing so when they begin a training program is going to see results, but they might have seen those same results from cleaning up their nutrition in the absence of the training program.

What you have to ask yourself is: what is the adaptation this program is designed to produce? And how effectively does it bring about that adaptation, compared to other programs?

All of the above applies to any type of training, not just Crossfit.
posted by JohnMarston at 7:40 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holympus, any training program where the headquarters of said training program argue for "20% slop" in form of the lifts performed during conditioning sessions is not one that's wholly oriented towards proper mechanics. I have been involved in weightlifting for a few years now, have been around many more experienced weightlifters, and I can assure you that when videos are posted on CF affiliate websites or the CF mainpage the form of the lifts is often more terrible than not, to the point where I would be worried about clients injuring themselves at said affiliates.

(verbyournouns, "20% slop" refers to a belief held in Crossfit that if your form is too good during conditioning sessions it means you're not working hard enough, and you're only getting a good workout if your form starts to deteriorate. This is a dangerous tenant to hold with many of the movements Crossfit performs and can obviously invite injury depending on the client. That's why it's so important to evaluate affiliates on a case-by-case basis and see whether the trainer is a ball-busting "Work harder, not smarter" type, or someone who's going to stop you if they see a herniated disk in the making.)
posted by schroedinger at 8:59 AM on August 19, 2010


I didn't mean at all to suggest that Crossfit defined fitness originally or first, just that the program separates itself from many by actually offering a definition, and attempting to explain why and how the program is built around that definition. I think we have different understandings of what it means to be made a rower, Loto, but it's clearly not an important issue for the asker.

...in spite of all this I still do the program. Why? Assuming you get into a good affiliate it really is a great general conditioning program. You'll see major increases in your strength, endurance and coordination. You will learn new skills. It's really a wonderful introduction into all sorts of sports and events you never thought you'd be able to do.

Agree wholeheartedly.

What you have to ask yourself is: what is the adaptation this program is designed to produce? And how effectively does it bring about that adaptation, compared to other programs?

If we had the type of evidence that allowed us to answer these questions with a high degree of certainty, this thread wouldn't exist, because many large, randomized, controlled clinical trials would already have given us the kind of data that you need to determine whether or not Crossfit works, or works better than any alternative. What frustrates me about this type of argument is the same exact thing that I mentioned above: it attributes certainty to a group who never claimed it, and does so just because they're not shy that it's their goal to craft the best program for creating general physical preparedness. Everyone is free to look at all of the available evidence, and say whatever they like: "Crossfit is great;" "Crossfit will cripple you;" "Crossfit doesn't work as well as x, y, or z;" "There's not enough evidence for me to conclude anything intelligent or worthwhile about fitness." Meanwhile, some people want to try to get really fit. They're forced to make a choice. This is where what Crossfit inspires in me is respect, not disdain.
posted by holympus at 9:04 AM on August 19, 2010


I won't comment again, but I'd like to clarify that I think the first part of the question I posed is the far more important one: what is the adaptation this program is designed to produce? i.e., I think a person making a serious commitment, whether through time, money, or effort, to any kind of regimen should take the time to understand what it is they're doing and why they're doing it that way. What is it that they want to achieve, how are they measuring their progress towards that goal, how does their training require them to progress towards that goal, etc. Before we think about trials to determine whether something "works," we have to answer the question: works for what?

Like I said in my first comment, I think Crossfit is the best way to train to achieve some goals, and not the best way to train for others. I think that, unsurprisingly, it's often marketed in such a way as to imply it is the best way for everyone to train. And I think that deciding if it's the best way for any given person to train will take some time, education, and experimentation.
posted by JohnMarston at 9:22 AM on August 19, 2010


schroedinger, we obviously can't get into a productive argument about who has the most experienced weightlifting friends, or whether what someone did in a video on a CF affiliate website or the CF mainpage had good form in your friends' opinions or mine. The reason people like Mark Rippetoe and Louie Simmons are willing to hang around Crossfitters is that, by and large, they're doing a better job teaching people these lifts than anyone else is.

Finally, I think you simply don't know what is discussed in the Crossfit community with regards to mechanics, consistency, and intensity. Walk into any Crossfit gym and you'll see those words written up on the whiteboard. You'll see nothing about 20% slop. In fact, here you can see the 7680 results for the search "'mechanics consistency intensity' crossfit," the first of which is straight out of the "charter" for all of Crossfit; here you can see the 1 result (I'm sure it will soon be 2...) for "'20% slop' crossfit."

On preview, JM, I think we mostly agree. Now, suppose that, given a client population's varying goals, abilities, and natural talents, you tasked yourself with creating the best overall program for making them fit. What would you do? This is all Crossfit does.
posted by holympus at 9:33 AM on August 19, 2010


Now, suppose that, given a client population's varying goals, abilities, and natural talents, you tasked yourself with creating the best overall program for making them fit. What would you do? This is all Crossfit does.

Crossfit does not do that, though. Anybody who has a specific goal in mind should; define them, find the most appropiate means (workout) to produce them, and then work towards them. Any decent trainer that sits down with a new client should specificaly take all that into consideration to specifically tailor their workouts for them. Crossfit explicitly does this backwards by offering their definition of the goal, offering a generalized workout plan, and then corraling people through their gyms.
Now I don't personally think it's a bad idea but to be clear it's more of marketing plan than it is a solid workout plan. Curves does the same thing and I think it's a great idea but again it's marketing to a general audience. Just as P90x and etc..

Crossfit does have some great benefits and I don't see why anyone shouldn't do it, just as long as the trainers there are qaulified and helpful.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:59 PM on August 19, 2010


Mark Rippetoe left the CF community because of the issues I addressed above, and from what I gathered from my conversations with Louie Simmons, he is involved in the community because he likes the enthusiasm and wants to fix the issues I addressed above.

Please do not suggest I'm unfamiliar with the CF community . . . I entered weightlifting through CF and have been involved in the community for as long as you have. Perhaps you will have better success looking up "form degradation and intensity" in your search. It's also called the "80/20" rule. If you want to see an example of this, then look at any of the videos of individuals in the Crossfit games. Take the Olympic lifts--their form is nearly universally atrocious, which is frankly dangerous when you're involved with lifts that fast-moving and dynamic. A good trainer would not encourage this among their clients.

That's why I urge the OP to evaluate CF affiliates on a case-by-case basis, and take "You're not working hard enough if your form is perfect" as a giant red flag. I doubt you would argue with me in that respect.

It is a good way to get a tough workout that will push you beyond the normal machine-circuit, but people starting the program need to be really, really careful about injuries.
posted by schroedinger at 3:16 PM on August 19, 2010


I should mention Simmons is most interested in improving the use of strength-training in CF workouts, though I guess at this point it's nitpicking.
posted by schroedinger at 3:18 PM on August 19, 2010


P.o.B., your comment is not even internally consistent. You begin by disputing my claim that Crossfit is a program designed for general physical preparedness, and then say that Crossfit--and Curves and P90x--market themselves to a general audience by devising a generalized workout plan for all clients, as opposed to tailoring workouts to each individual. What you say about Crossfit not tailoring workouts to client goals, needs, and abilities is false, anyway, as I've stated above.

schroedinger, I don't want to get into a pissing contest with you about who has more Crossfit or weightlifting experience, which is why I avoided that invitation in your previous comment, and I'll do it again in your most recent one. I apologize for any suggestion that you are unfamiliar with the CF community--I don't know anything about how familiar you are, and I don't care. People in the Crossfit community don't talk about "20% slop," as I said above, which is why this is the second time it has happened in the history of the internet. They talk about technique; they talk about mechanics; they talk about consistency; then they talk about intensity. Oddly enough, if you google "form degradation and intensity crossfit," as you suggest, the first hit you get is this CF Journal video by Dave Castro in which his first words are "So, I'm saying, technique, technique, technique, technique." He then goes on to say what you seem to view as heresy, which is that an athlete that trains with perfect form is not training at the limits of her athletic potential. I don't think this is an unreasonable claim.

The "80/20" rule has absolutely nothing to do with anything we've been discussing in this thread.
posted by holympus at 10:12 PM on August 19, 2010


Holympus: Yeah, they do actually talk about slop. In fact, the idea was originally taught at the Level 1 Cert:
A mention of slop being taught at a cert
Another mention of slop at a Level 1 Cert

Really, just google "CrossFit Slop" and it will come up. Luckily, my affiliate thinks "CrossFit Slop" is bullshit but this isn't the case for everywhere.

Verbyournouns, how did it go?
posted by Loto at 6:48 AM on August 20, 2010


People in the Crossfit community don't talk about "20% slop," as I said above, which is why this is the second time it has happened in the history of the internet.

Google doesn't return the results you're probably expecting when you use a % inside quotes. If you search for just 20% slop crossfit, you get 8000+ results, and most on the first 3 pages are apropos. Searching for "crossfit slop" within quotes gets you 250 more results.
posted by vorfeed at 11:54 AM on August 20, 2010


P.o.B., your comment is not even internally consistent.

Actually, it is. I didn't dispute the idea that it's for GPP because that's the general idea behind CF. What I was talking about was the idea behind making a generalized plan and running clients through it (which is what CF does and I'm not sure how that's false) and tailoring a plan specifically for clients. I hope there are decent CF affiliates that tailor make plans, but that's by and large that's not true.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:03 PM on August 20, 2010


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