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Pros and cons of the CrossFit craze

Laura Williams, M.S.Ed. is a personal trainer, freelance writer and entrepreneur who works with a wide variety of fitness clients. She's the founder of the popular website, - Girls Gone Sporty, and she's the host of the High Impact Blogg...

Should you CrossFit?

Few workout programs have garnered as much attention as the CrossFit craze, with wild-eyed advocates touting the benefits on one side and naysaying decryers defaming the workout on the other. So what's a middle-of-the-road person to believe? As with many of life's debates, the answer is a little from column A and a little from column B.

Women lifting weight

Should you CrossFit?

Few workout programs have garnered as much attention as the CrossFit craze, with wild-eyed advocates touting the benefits on one side and naysaying decryers defaming the workout on the other. So what's a middle-of-the-road person to believe? As with many of life's debates, the answer is a little from column A and a little from column B.

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is "the sport of fitness." In a nutshell, CrossFit programs are designed to enhance all areas of total-body fitness, including strength, agility, power, flexibility, cardiovascular health and more. CrossFit programs are designed to be scalable, meeting the needs of individuals from all walks of life, and they're also designed to be variable so that no two workouts are exactly the same. Led by CrossFit-certified instructors, workouts should be reasonably safe for participants, as instructors are there to teach proper form and manage progressions.

Benefits of CrossFit

The CrossFit craze came into existence because of the many benefits CrossFit has to offer.

  • Trainer-led program. Workouts are led by a certified coach who provides participants with individual instruction and personalized goals. Because many people can't (or won't) shell out the money for a personal trainer, this is a "happy medium" in terms of benefit and cost. Participants get the benefit of working with a certified individual, while the cost of CrossFit membership is significantly lower than the hourly cost of a personal trainer.
  • Focus on total fitness. Most individuals don't know how to effectively train for total-body fitness. When they hit the gym, they hop on a cardio machine or do a circuit around the weight machines, but they end up skipping some component of fitness, whether it's flexibility, muscular power, balance or agility. CrossFit programs are designed to hit every area of fitness, enabling participants to become more well-rounded athletes and individuals.
  • A close-knit team. Because CrossFitters attend specific classes, they get to know the other people at their gym and quickly become engulfed in the CrossFit culture. This is beneficial because the stronger your personal ties to a workout or group of people, the more likely you are to stick with the program. CrossFitters develop friendships and rivalries, and they push one another to work harder and keep showing up. At the end of the day, CrossFitters achieve results, partially due to the CrossFit culture.
  • Fitness-based gratification trumps looks-based gratification. Let's be real, one of the biggest motivators for exercise is looks-based gratification. We want to look good, and we want others to think we look good. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's power in recognizing that exercise provides other forms of gratification — specifically, fitness-based gratification. CrossFit and CrossFitters are very good at promoting fitness-based results by applauding, complimenting and promoting improved strength and power.

Drawbacks of CrossFit

While there are lots of good things to say about CrossFit, it's received some backlash, and rightfully so.

  • Not all trainers are created equal. Just as some doctors graduate at the bottom of their class, some trainers do, too. Trainers are people with preconceived beliefs, backgrounds and understandings about what fitness is and how it should be taught. And while CrossFit as an organization may try to weed out the individuals who don't meet its standards, you can feel fairly confident that some sneak through. A trainer who fails to teach proper form, who doesn't make sure participants work at their own level or who pushes participants to keep exercising through pain ends up hurting the entire organization. Get to know the trainers at your local facility before signing up. Ask about their certifications, experience and background in sports and ask whether you can watch or try a workout before committing to a membership.
  • CrossFit workouts are often termed "addictive," but as with all addictions, a CrossFit addiction isn't a good thing. While it's great to find a workout that you love and want to stick with, if you find yourself working out to excess, feeling guilty if you miss a workout, centering your life on your CrossFit classes or otherwise obsessing about the sport, it's time to take a step back. Workouts should fuel your life, but your life shouldn't fuel your workouts. Aim for balance in all things to achieve a fuller picture of health.
  • Competition breeds injury. One of the biggest complaints about CrossFit is that it leads to injury, and it's a fair complaint. It's not that the exercises performed during CrossFit are "bad" in and of themselves but that many of the movements require a baseline level of strength, flexibility and power. While all moves can be scaled to a person's fitness level, it's incumbent upon the individual and the instructor to make sure this happens. If there's a high level of intra-participant competition at play, it's highly likely that a person will try a move she is not ready for or continue pushing herself when common sense would suggest a break is necessary. The combination of competition and high-level moves frequently leads to injury.

Taking up CrossFit

Whether or not you join a CrossFit gym is entirely up to you.

Angelique L., a CrossFitter and blogger at AJility Fitness Journey, says, "I love CrossFit. It's a full-body workout, you gain a lot of strength, you get to push yourself to limits you didn't think you had and it's a family that supports you and cheers you on. That said, it can wear you out and take a toll on your joints if you're not careful. With wrong form, you can definitely suffer a lot of injuries, and some coaches aren't good at telling you to lift lighter to not jeopardize form."

The point is, you have to be careful. Make your decision with thoughtfulness and enter into each workout with the understanding that you are your own advocate when it comes to preventing injury. There's nothing overtly wrong or bad about CrossFit, but you do have to be conscious of the pros and cons, just as you should be with any workout.

Question:

Have you tried CrossFit? Tell about your experience in the comments section below.

More on CrossFit

Is CrossFit safe for kids?
CrossFit: Don't fear the fitness
Are you ready to be CrossFit?

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