Why are people not quitting CrossFit?
CrossFit defines its programming as constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity. The part that comes for most scrutiny is high intensity for the potential heart health hazards. Its detractors claim that long bouts of high-intensity exercise performed for long periods of time could be detrimental to heart health. I am not a cardiologist, but I could agree with the fear.
However, what is missed in all this is that good CrossFit boxes (a CrossFit gym is called a box – probably because it is mostly an empty box with rather little equipment) do not let their members push themselves beyond their limits. Good CrossFit coaches take the time to learn the history of each individual client and adapt everyday programming to everyone’s abilities. The high intensity is not the highest in the class. It is what is appropriately high for each member.
Mr Mahavir Singh Yadav, 72, says, "I have been working out at my CrossFit box for over 5 years now and getting better every day. Thanks to my fitness regime at CrossFit, I hardly visit any doctor and do not take any medicines. My coaches take great care to ensure that my movements are correct and have helped me get fitter."
Every adult member is expected to communicate his/her limits and abilities clearly to the coach. CrossFit’s programming defines scaling down of movements and repetitions for every movement. CrossFit has a course on scaling that is mandatory for all certified coaches to undertake. No other form of exercise has elevated scaling to the level CrossFit has. I speak both as a member of one of India’s best CrossFit boxes but also as a certified multi-disciplinary CrossFit trainer.
CrossFit programming is not all about high intensity. Programming is carefully rotated to include aerobic, anaerobic and strength training. CrossFit targets to improve its members’ fitness across various domains. There are ten of them. Strength, power, speed, stamina, aerobic endurance, flexibility, accuracy, agility, coordination, balance. CrossFit is not for you if your idea of fitness is to have big arms – though you could get that out of CrossFit.
CrossFit programming and its scaling have been taken from many domains – powerlifting, gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting among others with careful consideration of building ability in these ten domains. Various studies have directly linked cognitive health in later years of life to working on these fitness metrics in earlier years.
If your goal is simply to lose weight, you could find other ways. If you wanted to lose fat, building muscle and a high-intensity workout routine would be the best ways to do it.
Some movements of CrossFit – like kipping have been criticized for causing injury. Much less spoken is that CrossFit mandates that members should first develop the strict versions of the kipping movements. Strict pull-ups before kipping pull-ups. However, members are often carried away by the dazzling performance of elite CrossFit athletes without understanding the years of hard work that went into reaching that level of performance and consequently injure themselves.
CrossFit has been criticized for being too general. Many non-CrossFit practitioners and many health professionals say that beyond a point CrossFit does not help you meet specific goals. I agree. If your goal is simply to bulk up, you are probably better off working on a machine in a traditional gym and focus on resisted isolation movements that target the parts of the body you want to enhance. If you want to improve your half or full marathon performance, you are, probably, better off pounding the streets or the track – though you would immensely benefit in your quest to be a better runner by rotating your running with some CrossFit sessions.
However, CrossFit is about improving your overall quality of life over an extended period of your life. If that is your goal, CrossFit is for you.
“I started CrossFit at the age of 60 even though I had undergone surgery for a slipped disc in my forties. I was lucky to have met the best coaches who helped me adjust by scaling and modifying my workouts. CrossFit helped me rehabilitate my back and gain muscle strength and improve my overall quality of life. Now at the age of 65 I not only enjoy CrossFit but am also able to compete with the girls half my age," says Ms Madhu Singh, director of Perch Service Apartments.
CrossFit has been criticized for being more expensive than traditional gyms. If you compare the cost of a personal trainer in a traditional gym to that of a CrossFit box, I suspect, you would be pleasantly surprised. CrossFit coaches are specially trained to manage group sessions and to look out for individual members and correct and fix techniques. Good CrossFit coaches will drill good techniques before they let you increase intensity and load.
CrossFit insists on progression from form to consistency to intensity to load. This progression allows the body to develop muscle memory of movements – incorrect, as memories are stored in the brain and not in the muscle – and once applied consistently over time, increase intensity suitable to level and then increase load as every level of intensity becomes easy to perform with good form. That is the essence of progress in a CrossFit box. Progress is measured by every individual’s success and not in relation to the group.
"We are a CrossFit family and have been members of a CrossFit box for over 6 years. Both my children have been regularly performing CrossFit workouts since their early teens. Our coaches at the box are trained and experienced and have always focused on ensuring that the movements are performed with proper technique and at levels suited to our individual limits to avoid injuries and enhance fitness levels," Mr PS Sekhon.
CrossFit is often criticized for being without order and that it does not allow for structured programming. However, the programming of CrossFit is carefully moderated across various movement modalities like metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, and weightlifting. Every week, one workout of each of the three modalities is common. However, in keeping with the CrossFit philosophy of workouts being constantly varied, this monotony is sometimes done away with.
Going into the box without knowing what workout to expect and then groaning at seeing the exercise on the whiteboard and then surprising yourself by completing the workout – even if it was scaled to the level of a beginner – is all part of the CrossFit experience.
What is lesser-known outside the CrossFit community is the CrossFit pyramid. With nutrition at the base, it serves as a guide both for beginners and advanced athletes. Not many fitness programmes have broken the athletic journey into such scientific and progressive steps.
What is also not commonly known, CrossFit is probably the only exercise programme in the world that has two rest days every week built into its programming structure. Thursdays and Sundays are days of active rest when you do not push the body and let it recover.
Of everything I have written above, the most endearing part of a CrossFit box is that the person who finishes last is the one who is cheered the most. I know this very well as I almost always finish last. If this one feature of a CrossFit workout does not show what CrossFit is about, nothing will.
KY Iyer is a technology professional, an active CrossFit member, a CrossFit trainer, a yoga trainer and an avid reader.