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CrossFit

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I said it, CrossFit, ooh… dirty word!  If you’re looking for another article that spends paragraph after paragraph bitching on CrossFit then you’ve come to the wrong place.

It’s commoner than baron von common of commonville for strength coaches, physios and movement experts to shit on CrossFit’s face and label it the Quasimodo of the fitness world.

Quite simply, I thought it looked good and its participants seemed strong and fit, so I decided to give it a go. I've competed in a variety of sports including Rugby League, BJJ and MMA, ran a few adventure races and trained with some great strength coaches, many of whom hate CrossFit, but I wanted to see for myself.

For someone looking for a more general kind of fitness it seemed to cover all the bases. I don’t want a massive deadlift if my 5k run time is the same as my nans. There’s far more to fitness than the size of your compound lift numbers, and CrossFit has a generalised but no nonsense approach that seems to make CrossFitters ready for anything.

I went into the box (Crossfit box is the name given to a CrossFit gym) fully aware of the skepticism and criticism it has faced over the years. Some people even hate the fact that their gyms are called boxes. Not sure why.

The Reality

What I found was that many of the criticisms levelled at CrossFit as an organisation didn’t make sense. The main and most troubling criticism is that CrossFitters have bad form on compound and Olympic lifts which often leads to debilitating back injuries.

I’m no expert when it comes to form and the consensus is regularly changing on the finer details, but I know the basics.

It is true that when doing a workout of the day (WOD) you are going against the clock, it’s a competitive environment and as such, the temptation to compromise form for speed is definitely available. Is it CrossFit’s fault that people are prone to cheating to achieve an outcome?

Form is on you! The coaches take every opportunity to work on form and correct it, but if you’re going to chuck it out of the window so the time that gets written on the board ranks higher, then that is your personal choice.

Not once since starting three months ago have I been pushed to lift heavier than I’m capable of. The emphasis is very much on form.

What I’m also finding is that because of the high number of reps involved, my form is actually getting better on exercises that have been a life long struggle, such as squatting. By not chasing heavy numbers and being forced into doing high reps from time to time, my body is grooving the move and practising each movement to a level it never has before.

Yes, there are plenty of videos online showing Crossfitters with eye wateringly bad form, but go in 99% of gyms and you’ll see the same thing at one time or another.

I can see how number chasers will easily get injured but the responsibility rests with coaches and the individual, not just CrossFit as a practice.

Mental Blocks

I’ll be completely honest, there are some exercises I like to avoid or not do, such as rowing, overhead squats, muscle ups (literally, cannot do) etc. Well, at Crossfit I turn up having no idea what I’m doing that session. It might be something I’m good at or enjoy, it might be something I’m shit at, it might be something I loathe.

It forces me outside of my comfort zone in some way almost every single session, and the results are coming because of this. Even the best coaches fall into the trap of playing to your strengths, because everyone feels good getting results. In CrossFit there’s so much to cover, that chances are you’re shit at something. Working on your weaknesses in this unplanned manner means your rational mind doesn’t have time to talk you out of it.

Getting on and doing it, is slowly turning weaknesses into strengths. Maybe not strengths, maybe acceptable levels is a more realistic term.

Camaraderie

We’re social creatures whether we like to admit it or not, and CrossFit fulfils a social need in the lives of many. I’ve been in plenty of gyms where superiority/inferiority complexes prevail, which can be motivating for some but completely off putting for others. CrossFit doesn’t seem to care how good you are or how bad you are. It cares that you’re there to get better and give your best… shit, I’m starting to sound like a cult member on a recruitment drive!

Another criticism frequently levelled at CrossFit, is that it’s a cult. I think this is mainly because a 'them' and 'us' situation has been created with all the attacks levelled at CrossFit. When you’re attacked you’re going to defend and so ensues the endless online nonsense. From where I'm standing plenty of strength coaches have used certain practices developed in CrossFit and of course vice versa.

Is it perfect? No, far from it. From what I can see there are no coaches or disciplines that have all answers, though some like to think they do. And while many are whinging and bitching online, most CrossFitters are just getting on with what they love to do.

If you’re an athlete training for a specific event then I’d probably recommend a strength and conditioning programme with a respected, well researched coach over CrossFit. That’s not to say you’ll be fitter than someone who’s chosen CrossFit. You’ll just be more optimised for the sport you’re looking to compete in.

For the guy on the street that wants to be in better shape and an all round more capable human being, you’ll be hard pushed to beat CrossFit.

We train at Crossfit Consilium in Manchester.

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