Why Crossfit May Not Be Good For You

Let’s face it, Crossfit is a controversial topic in the world of strength and conditioning. Crossfit gyms are springing up all over the world. They are cheap and easy to open, with only a weekend certification and a few thousand dollars worth of equipment. This appeals to many newcomers to the fitness business. You can be part of a rapidly growing trend and you can do it without great expense. I am not a Crossfit fan so some might view this piece as yellow journalism. I will try to keep my personal opinions to myself and deal with what is generally agreed upon as safe in strength and conditioning.

First, a little background. To be honest, I knew very little about Crossfit until I was contacted by representatives of SOMA, the Special Operations Medical Association, in 2005. Crossfit was their concern, not mine. I was asked to come to the SOMA meeting in Tampa, Florida to discuss training special operations soldiers. At a panel discussion in 2005 I offered answers to questions asked about Crossfit and the controversy began.

What follows is not from the SOMA meeting but, my thoughts since.

Major Question 1- Is planned randomization a valid concept. Crossfit is based on the idea that the workouts are planned but deliberately random. I think that the term planned randomization is an oxymoron. Workouts are either planned or random. I believe strongly that workouts should be planned and that a specific progression should be followed to prevent injury.

Major Question 2- Is Training to Failure Safe? Because Crossfit is, at it’s heart, a competitive or self-competitive program it becomes necessary to train to failure. There are two layers or problem here. One is the simple question of whether training to failure is beneficial to the trainee. Some strength and conditioning experts believe training to failure is beneficial, others caution against. I must admit that I like training to failure. However, this brings up the larger question of what constitutes failure. Strength and Conditioning Coach Charles Poliquin (another non-Crossfit fan) popularized the term “technical failure” and, this is the definition that we adhere to. Technical failure occurs not when the athlete or client is no longer capable of doing the exercise but, when the athlete or client can no longer do the exercise with proper technique. In training beyond technical failure the stress shifts to tissues that were not, and probably should not, be the target of the exercise.

The third layer of the training to failure question relates to what movements lend themselves to training to failure. In the area of “generally agreed as safe”, high velocity movements like Olympic lifts and jumps are not generally done to failure and never should be taken beyond technical failure. Is it one bad rep versus multiple bad reps? How many bad reps is too many?

Major Question 3- Is an overuse injury ( generally an injury caused by repeated exposure to light loads), different from an overstress injury ( an injury caused by exposure to heavy loads). Both are injuries. The first is overuse, the second is trauma. In my mind injuries are injuries, period.

Major Question 4- Should adults be Olympic lifters? I don’t think that Olympic lifts are for adults. Most adults can’t get their arms safely over their head once much less fifty times with load. The other question that begs to be asked is should anyone do high rep Olympic lifts. I know the best Olympic lifters in the world say no.

With all that said believe it or not my biggest problem is actually less with the actual workouts than it is with the false bravado and character assassination of dissenters. The community can be pretty venomous when you question Coach Glassman or Crossfit. In fact, I know I will get angry emails from this piece.

The Crossfit community is also filled with people who tell you that injury is a normal part of the training process. I have spoken up against endurance athletes who willingly hurt themselves and to me, this is no different than the current Crossfit controversy.

I know that this post will generate more controversy but, Crossfit might be the most controversial and polarizing topic in strength and conditioning since HIT training.


90 Responses to “Why Crossfit May Not Be Good For You”

  1. I enjoyed reading your article on CrossFit training, but people who haven’t been exposed to CrossFit generally don’t understand its concepts.

    Rather than writing a dissertation, I’ll start by saying you have a huge misunderstanding of what CrossFit is and how it’s coached.

    My points I want to quickly make:

    There’s no such thing as over-training or over use, there’s only under-recovery, your body will adapt. I squat 4-6 times a week and that’s not including when I practice my [Olympic] weightlifting. If you count my dedicated squat sessions and when I weightlift, I squat somewhere between 7-10 sessions per week. Years ago I only squatted once or twice a week. I’ve been doing 4-6 dedicated squat sessions per week for over 4 years now. But don’t think I recommend this to my clients unless they want to condition themselves to be able to do this.

    Also your argument about an “overuse injury generally an injury caused by repeated exposure to light loads” is complete BS. Injuries occur when you use your body outside of a way it was intended or conditioned to be used. Try selling the idea of overuse injuries due to repeated exposure to light loads to guys who have been swinging a sledgehammer or operating a jackhammer for decades and they’ll laugh. It doesn’t get anymore repetitive than that, right?

    Moreover, America’s obesity problems aren’t because people are over-training, otherwise we wouldn’t be the 2nd fattest country in the world (thank you Mexico).

    Lastly, EVERYONE can Olympic lift so long as they have the mobility and practice it with good form. Also, ALL of the top weightlifters I’ve talked to (North, Krych, Ferris, Shankle, etc) said there’s nothing wrong with doing high repetition olympic lifts so long as it’s done at a weight where form doesn’t break. You wrote “I know the best Olympic lifters in the world say no,” so which ones have you spoke with?

  2. What blows my mind is that it takes an athlete for example a hockey player to be engage in long term player development 10 plus years of training. We slowly develop the necessary skills in off ice conditioning such as plyometrics, box jumps and Olympic lifts, yet these CF expect an average person to be engaged in high performance training without years of proper training. No wonder accidents are happening at an alarming rate. I guess most people want to see the results NOW and not take the time and technique to become a better athlete in a safe manner. My two cents worth

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