I started crossfit in earnest to enhance my brazilian jiu jitsu training, and six months in or so, I’m posting my take on the good and bad of crossfit.
If you haven’t heard of it, crossfit is a new rage in fitness. Crossfit combines very high intensity lifting aerobic and anerobic training it what is called the Workout of the Day(WOD). Everyone does the same workout in a given day, and scores and times are posted on a board for review.
For more background on crossfit visit the FAQ at: http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/faq.html
Six months in, my items on the table for crossfit discussion are:
- Forced Programming
- Range of motion
- Crossfit specific skills
- People and atmosphere
If you’ve been going to a typical gym, it is quite unlikely you’ve done training at this intensity level. Most crossfit workouts have a ‘for time’ component. An example workout would be ‘Murph’
Murph, named after Lt Michael Murphy, KIA 2005.
- 1 mile Run
- 100 Pull-ups
- 200 Push-ups
- 300 Squats
- 1 mile Run
This is a ‘for time’ exercise and the pullups pushups and squats(bodyweight air squats) can be broken into as many sets as you’d like, I typically to 20 sets of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats. Do it all as fast as you can, winner is the lowest time.
No matter your fitness level, this is a monster workout. Pre-crossfit, I had typically either done cardio or weight training in a given workout. Doing both, and doing them for time is a new evil.
Other crossfit workouts combine lifting and running with multiple rounds for time. On one particularly nasty workout combining Cleans/Front squats and pullups, I dishrag’d in at about 11 minutes. My much-maligned friend Jon Roof pulled a 5:30. Even though he was twice as good as I was, we were both completely wiped and laying in a pool of our sweat gasping like fish on the floor.
No matter if you’re a super-star or a clod, the ‘for time’ component ups the pressure levels to red-line.
The fact everyone is working out at the same time, doing the same thing also adds to the pressure.
Whether I’m trying to catch someone in the workout, or prevent someone from catching me, it ups the intensity. Inspiration can also be had from seeing someone horrible at the workout just relentlessly forcing themselves on.
Some days, especially later in my workout week, red-line training is not the answer. If it’s my 5th or 6th day in a row working out, “Going to Eleven” is provably not the best thing for my body.
I’ve found I need to work in some lower intensity either LSD(Long Slow Distance) cardio, or light to moderate weight training to balance things out.
Since my primary focus in crossfit it to enhance my jiu jitsu, I also need to screen the workouts accordingly. If it’s going to be a ‘hero’ workout that will leave me completely degraded for a few days and I’m training jiu jitsu the next day, I might have to take a pass.
Perhaps if I was still 23, had oodles of rest and rehab time on my hands, I could recover more quickly. If I have to short-shrift anything, it’s going to be crossfit. “Oh, you got a bad time today” is not the same thing as not being able to move my hips and being strangled by a 270lb monster on the mat.
Forced Programming; Good
Having someone else doing the workout programming forces me to work on my weaknesses. There are simply exercises I’d avoid because I don’t have the proper range of motion or coordination or perhaps the equipment in a typical gym. When was the last time you did rope climbs at 24hr Fitness? A push-up/sprint workout?
Forced Programming; Bad
It would seem at my gym, programming is done day to day in isolation of each other. This leads to scenarios where the same body part is getting hammered days in a row. We’ve had days in a row where heavy strength work is book-ended by Olympic lifting that all use the same bits of the body. Hey we did heavy squats yesterday, let’s do a box-jump and wall-ball combo today!
Ignoring my wish to mix jiu jitsu training and crossfit, it seems crossfit’s programming doesn’t mix well with crossfit on a given week.
Range of motion; Good
Most of crossfit exercises are done ‘to depth’ This has forced me to work on my hip flexibility and has yielded a bunch of positive results for my jiu jitsu game. Most of the Olympic lifting requires a great deal of flexibility in many aspects to be able to lift with good mechanics.
Range of motion; Bad
As in, my range of motion is bad. I had an elbow that couldn’t bend more than 90 degrees for years. I had surgery on it to clean out the chunky bits that were jamming the joint, but I still don’t have full range of flexion in my right arm. Many of the crossfit and Olympic lifts require a ‘front rack’ position. I simply can’t get my arm to bend enough yet, although range of motion is improving. This leads to me having to do a bunch of workout adaptations, which can be frustrating.
Crossfit specific skills; Good
There are a number of things you need to learn how to do that seem to be crossfit specific, regardless of most athletic backgrounds. Kipping, or using your legs and hips to generate momentum to assist pull-ups for instance. My wife Sherrie has a gymnastics background, so for her this is a natural motion. For me, it’s a bit of a learning curve. Double unders are another. Jump rope, and for each hop, have the rope go under your feet twice. Many of the odd crossfit exercises have good crossover benefits to general athleticism.
Crossfit Specific; Bad
Some of the work in crossfit, seems to be very crossfit specific. I’m sure being able to walk on my hands has some uses somewhere, but it seems I’ve managed to make it four decades on the planet without being able to, and can’t say that I’ve missed it.
The strength and flexibility required to do many of the lifts helps to bullet-proof the body.
The competitive nature of the intense workouts can lead people to over-extend themselves. If you get tired when you are just running you can stop. If you’re combining running and 275lb deadlifts, the fatigue and form degradation can easily lead to injury.
The mental toughness crossfit builds through intense workouts can be a negative when it comes to ‘one-more-rep’ mentality with weight heavy enough to injure.
I have conclusively proven I am both strong enough and dumb enough to hurt myself during a workout.
People and atmosphere; Good
The nature of the workouts and everyone doing the same thing at the same time lends itself to an easy group association. Many of the guys I’ve met at the gym have been helpful, supportive, and have great senses of humor. The forged bond of pain and suffering tends to unite the people that are drawn to this type of workout. There is a gallows humor that many of the guys, and a few of the women appreciate when being faced with a challenging workout.
The visuals are nice. Many exercises are ‘to depth’ which is a seriously deep squat. This tends to give the women in crossfit quite nice rear views.
People and atmosphere; Bad
Mixing people who are this competitive tends to have some humors byproducts. The “I’m winning the warmup guys and girls” are fun to watch. It may be a cold first warmup exercise, people will actively be looking around to make sure they win each phase of the warmup.
Bear crawls? Hell Yeah ITS ON!
The Bitter Crossfit Bitch face
For reference, I work in IT, the land of the socially awkward. Many of the women that are attracted to crossfit seem to take personality-minus to the next level.
Not sure if it’s causal or correlation, but many of the women have faces so hard you’d think they were strippers in the business waaay too long. Condescension, elitism, and cattiness seem to abound at elite levels.
Sherrie came in as a pretty formidable athlete. She said it wasn’t until she was doing really well in the workouts that many of the I’m-taking-crossfit-seriously women would talk to her, say hi, or return a friendly smile.
I’ve been to a few crossfit events with competitors from all over, and the bitter crossfit bitch face seems to be a widespread phenomenon.
Crossfit six month summary
It’s a great workout, it’s an intense time. It’s a cult, but not my primary cult. I’m enjoying the nerd-factor of learning to Olympic lift, and many of the classes are quite difficult, but fun and rewarding in the end. Of the people I’ve met at crossfit, there are many, many great and fun people. If now we could just get the women to stop frowning every now and then, it would make it even better.