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. Mr. Boyle,

    I’d be happy to explain our entire programming methodology to you offline if you would like to email or call me. Or, you could just go to an L1 seminar, for free. I’d post an explanation here but I’m not convinced you actually care what CrossFit’s methodology is. If
    you recall, I have written extensively on the “randomness” criticism (along with Russ Greene) in response to Charles Poliquin in the CrossFit Discussion board here: http://www.board.crossfit.com/showthread.php?t=73163

    All of the information detailing how our program is not random is found there, and yet rather than trying to engage in that thread, your single contribution to the discussion was a sarcastic joke (Page 5).

    It’s pretty obvious that you would rather bury your head in the sand than have an intelligent discussion about CrossFit. I call
    this intellectually dishonest. If you feel otherwise, I am happy to hear how I’ve got it wrong.

  2. mboyle1959 Says:

    So constant variation does not mean random? What is the pattern then? I have been unable to discern a pattern? Where am I wrong here? If the program is not random, what is it?

    As for the injury statement, I won’t even touch that one.

    Also, as I said, character questions are part of the cloth of this friendly community. Lazy and intellectually dishonest? The last time I was referred to like that was in the previous quote from Mr Glassman?

    For the best in Boston area sports and personal training go to http://www.bodybyboyle.com. For the best in performance enhancement information go to http://www.strengthcoach.com MBSC was recently named one of America’s Top Gyms By Men’s Health Magazine and was voted Boston’s best personal trainers for 2011.

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  3. Mr. Boyle,
    I’ve never questioned your freedom to express your opinion, and I actually have no problem with you critiquing our program. My point is that your opinions are rooted in your misunderstanding of the CrossFit methodology. At least two of your criticisms here do not actually criticize CrossFit. In number two, you describe CrossFit as “deliberately random.” CrossFit programming is not random, so this is not a relevant or valid critique. As for number three, CrossFit has never claimed that overuse injuries are not injuries.

    If you refuse to take us up on our offer to attend the CrossFit L1 Course for free, you are essentially saying you see no problem critiquing a program that you are actually quite ignorant of. I hope this is not the case, as this seems both lazy and intellectually dishonest. Please let me know.

  4. mboyle1959 Says:

    Russell- thanks for taking the time to respond. I was careful to title this Why Crossfit May Not be Good or You. It is my opinion in answer to a series of questions I receive on an almost daily basis.

    As for why I don’t respond to Mr. Glassman, please see the following quote from Mr Glassman.

    “Mike Boyle is happy in a world where he makes his 50K/yr helping a few hundred people each year become a bit fitter. His work is not taken seriously at professional sporting levels and his reach with the general public is very, very limited. He’s sees the CrossFit juggernaut wherever he goes and he can’t stand it. We’ve spoken with the hockey players who claims he gave them their worst season ever, we’ve met the Army guys who were told they needed to do push-ups from their knees. (You can find reference to both of these instances from the comments on the first Boyle/CrossFit WOD post) My issues with Mike Boyle that aren’t about ethics, jealousy, competency, and professionalism are about risk analysis – cost benefit analysis.
    Is fitness important enough to accept some risk in teaching and training people? Is CrossFit as dangerous as ANY sport? Does Boyle et al recommend that no lifelong trained athletes engage in sport?”

    None of the above is even close to true but I never complained when it was written. I don’t blog for views or notoriety. I blog to keep people informed. You guys are more than welcome to express opinions to the contrary in the same that I am free to express mine.

  5. What I find most alarming is the encouragement from the coaches to keep pushing, when a cross fit athlete is clearly demonstrating poor form

  6. Mr. Boyle,
    This is Russell Berger of the CrossFit training department. You aren’t criticizing CrossFit in this article, but a straw-man version of our program that doesn’t exist. I believe this is due to your own ignorance of the CrossFit methodology, which your have fundamentally misrepresented in both this and past critiques.

    Also, Greg Glassman responded to most of your criticisms 5 years ago here: http://journal.crossfit.com/2008/10/crossfit-radio-special-35—addressing-the-boyle-rant.tpl

    and here: http://journal.crossfit.com/2007/01/evidencebased-fitness-discussi.tpl

    Of note, I don’t believe you have ever responded to Glassman’s rebuttals or in this recent piece either. This seems to me to be a good indication that you’ve posted this article purely our of a desire for controversy and web traffic, not for honest inquiry.

    Mr. Bolye, If my conclusion is a mistake, and you are honestly interested in having these questions answered, I suggest you attend the CrossFit L1 Trainer Course since it is apparent you do not understand the basic principals of our program. I’ve spoken to CrossFit’s director of training, Dave Castro, and he has offered you a free spot in any course of your choice. Please email me at Russell@CrossFit.com if you are interested.

  7. mboyle1959 Says:

    Yes, that is a problem. The combination of questionable exercises for certain populations and poor or inexperienced supervision is literally an accident waiting to happen and if you watch the videos, it often does.

  8. In the Boston area I have 6 friends who go to 4 different crossfit gyms. Some are militant about proper form and for them training to failure is training to technical failure. Two of the gyms however, do NOT stop the athlete when they start using bad form. One of my friends was injured when their coach was on the other side of the gym chatting with the other coaches while no one watched the work-out.

    As cross-fit gyms all have different management I think it is difficult to judge the entirety of Crossfit on the Training to Failure question as it means such different things in different gyms. And THAT is my primary concern about Crossfit.

    I concede to your training and experience on the other points.

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