CrossFit Misunderstood

Special guest author this week! I’d like to thank my husband, Dan for this week’s blog post about CrossFit. Hope you enjoy!

 costa-ricaFor the first decade of my professional career, I worked in the fitness Industry; I say that broadly as I have done just about every job in the industry from cleaning machines to working with professional athletes.  After a few year hiatus from the industry, I am very excited to be starting a new fitness venture with my wife Keri, owning and operating emPower Yoga.  While I enjoyed working in the fitness industry and think I was quite successful, I never really thought of myself as a “gym rat”.  I use that term in a very positive context; I have a ton of respect for people that spend their day in the gym both training themselves and training others, some of my mentors throughout my career have been “gym rats” and I’m pretty sure my wife is one too.gymrat  Not being one myself, I was happy to move towards the management side of fitness.  Don’t get me wrong, I love fitness, but being in the gym less makes me want to be in the gym more (if you know what I mean).  These days I consider myself more into fitness than I ever have. Some of the activities I love are biking, swimming, CrossFit, snowboarding and golf to name a few. As someone moving towards my mid-thirties, I think I am very active.

When CrossFit started gaining popularity around 2008-10ish, I was running a Fitness Center and doing some personal training on the side.  If you asked me back then and some did, I would give you a passionate dissertation about why CrossFit is the worst trend in the fitness industry (after Curves of course). I understood the basic concept and I was certainly familiar with the movements….or so I thought.  At that point in my life, I worked out in the gym a few times a week, ran a little, snowboarded in the winter and played a modest amount of golf, I certainly was no physical specimen.

as-bcakesFast forward to the Spring of 2013,  Keri and I had just moved to New Jersey the previous fall and we were finally starting to really settle into routines and make some friends. I was a member of a gym that I lifted and swam at occasionally and Keri decided to really make some changes when it came to health & fitness.  Our good friend Dennis was very into CrossFit when we met him and of course, I told him it was stupid and he shouldn’t do it.  What a good friend I am, right?  That fall, Keri saw a groupon for CrossFit Nassau (CFN) in downtown Princeton and was dead set on trying it. Of course I tried to talk her out of it and of course, I failed.  I decided that if she was doing, it I had to do it also to prove that it’s the worst exercise program around.

cfn-halloween-2To my pleasant surprise, CFN has an onramp program to introduce you to the CrossFit movements and philosophy.  Since I am a cocky a**hole, I wanted to be done with that in a session or two and get to grown man CrossFitting.  However, the onramp program proved to be very informative and I was grateful for the introduction.  For someone with no experience in Olympic lifting, gymnastics or other fitness moments, this program is invaluable.  It gives you some detailed instructions on standard CrossFit movements and gives you a controlled environment to practice and become proficient.  CrossFit hit the first pitch I threw out of the park; one key to getting participants to come back is teach them the proper form because it’s always more fun if you feel good about what you are doing.  Looking back, I was grateful for taking onramp and glad I did five-six classes instead of the one or two I wanted to do.

munichWhile the onramp classes are great, they are still group classes and every coach may have a different specialty.  While you should expect some individual attention, basic movement corrections, and modifications, you should not expect the whole class will be focused directly on your individual needs.  If you feel like you need special attention, you can always sign up with a coach for one on one instruction, testing and more information on nutrition.  The biggest piece of advice I have as both a fitness professional and a recreational crossfitter is start off slow and light.  Really nail the form before trying to lift heavy, you will be happier in the long run.  Never feel bad or embarrassed about scaling any movement, whether it be the movement itself, weight or reps.  We all start from zero and know what it’s like.  I personally never judge anyone scaling, but I am a little judgmental when someone is doing a weight or movement they obviously cannot handle.

as-rowsLike a lot of crossfitters,  I am purely a recreational crossfitter.  While I like to compete with my friends at the gym (box), I’ll enter the CrossFit open for fun, and enter an in-house competition, I am not competitive in the grand scheme of CrossFit.  I am certainly not a Games or Regional quality athlete. I can’t do every movement prescribed and still scale things. That said, I enjoy CrossFit as much as anyone.  To me, CrossFit is a way to stay strong, active, and agile(ish).  I always love a PR (personal record) and when I am the strongest guy in my class that day (cocky a**hole again), but I refuse to compromise form or health to do it.  One thing that made me not want to try CrossFit in the first place was seeing some of the CrossFit videos posted on youtube.  Someone would be doing a max lift or a WOD (workout of the day) and they would get it done, but with scary looking form, the sort of form that can really mess you up.   Luckily these days, there are more videos with quality form then scary form (but the scary ones are still out there).

When you watch Games athletes, you see them move a lot of weight (or a little weight) very fast and with great form.  Sure they struggle with form sometimes, but they work very hard to fight through, with good form.  The strongest, fastest and most agile athletes in the world get PRs when everything is perfect.  It is no different for a recreational athlete, if you want to be stronger, faster or more agile, better form will get you there (and no more poor form videos please).

waterburyOne of the reasons I had originally thought CrossFit was the devil’s work was because I thought it lacked scientific foundation.  The more I got into it and especially when I became a CrossFit Level 1 coach, I learned that there is a very clear method to the madness.  As a former Strength & Conditioning Coach, I used to look at some of the WODs and see something that didn’t make sense to me based on my education. Looking back on that, I understand why I felt that way about some of the movements, but it was because I didn’t really understand the concept of CrossFit and had a closed minded approach about specific movements.  Let’s see if I can clear this up.  

a-game-xfitIt’s scientifically proven that to yield the best results, certain Olympic weightlifting movements should be performed with low reps, higher weight, fast speeds and higher rest between sets.  Often times WODs have those same movements at high reps, moderate/high weights and no rest between sets (rounds).  Based on those last two statements, it should be easy to understand why I thought CrossFit was BS.  We need to think about CrossFit differently though; think about CrossFit as a sport, with the WODs as the game and the strength and skill work as the practice.  During the strength portion, the olympic lifts are being used to the scientific standards (low rep, high weight, moderate rest); this helps build strength and power that will help with the WODs.  It’s the same as a football player, they will do the same olympic lifts in the gym so the strength and power transfers to the field. The WOD’s help build overall fitness, but are not necessarily the mechanism to build strength and power.  The most elite crossfitters are following the basic principles when it comes to olympic weightlifting and it gets them very strong and powerful, which translates into their WOD’s.   Don’t interpret my sports analogy to mean you have to compete at CrossFit, it’s just a way to separate out the training from the WODs.

xfit-friendsI have made some really great friends through CrossFit and the group classes add a social element to the workout.  Now I’m sure you are thinking: “the cult has sucked you in!”.  As many know, CrossFit has a reputation as being cultish and yes I’m sure I mentioned this in one of many dissertations about my hatred for it.  Turns out though, when you get a group of people that enjoy the same workout routine, not only do you form a common bond over their experiences, but usually you have other things in common with them too.  I have made some good friends through CrossFit who I also enjoy doing other things with, like golf.

iron-crossfitAdmitting you are wrong can be difficult sometimes, but I sit here, close to a decade later, saying I was wrong about CrossFit.  CrossFit has been the first fitness program in my adult life that I have stayed consistent with over a long term.  One thing I have always struggled with is that consistency.  While there have been some weeks where I may have only made it into the box one or two times, that has been the exception more than the rule.  I find CrossFit to be both challenging and fun.  Some people will tell you that CrossFit is the “end all be all” of the fitness world.  While I have come to love CrossFit, I don’t think there is a such thing as “end all be all”.  It’s all a matter of what you enjoy, what you will get the most out of, and what will keep you healthy over the long term.  Now I’m not sure CrossFit has turned me into a “gym rat”, but it has certainly made me enjoy being in the gym more, which is a very good thing.

greece-xfitIf you think you might want to try CrossFit, even if it’s just to get some more information for your “I hate CrossFit dissertation”, here are some tips to make the most out of your experience:

  1. Have fun! Whether it’s CrossFit, yoga, swimming or biking, you are more likely to stick with a program you enjoy.
  2. Take the time to learn what you are doing.  Injuries happen when people try to rush into doing movements or weights their bodies cannot handle
  3. Always focus on form. Good form leads to the biggest gains.  
  4. Listen to your body.  Take care of your injuries, no matter how big or small.
  5. Enter each workout with an open mind.  It’s easy to cherry pick workouts based on your strength, but you will never get better if you don’t work on your weaknesses.
  6. Scale!  Make sure you scale movement, weight and reps to a place where you can do it safely.  It’s important to push yourself, but do it safely.  Don’t be intimidated by the meathead (aka me) in the corner squatting more weight, I started with an air squat like everyone else.
  7. Not all Boxes are created equal.  Don’t be afraid to try a few different CrossFit boxes until you find the one that’s right for you.

One thought on “CrossFit Misunderstood”

  1. Thanks for sharing your CrossFit story, Dan. Love hearing you begrudgingly come around to what actually makes sense, in the end.

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