I’m up and down on this. Sometimes, I think Crossfit is the dumbest thing ever. Sometimes, I think it’s awesome.
Short answer: Crossfit is great for general staying (or getting) in shape. It’s not really much different than any other bootcamp or personal training, though the emphasis on lifting and variety of workouts can be more interesting and effective for most people. It really depends on the place and the instructor, however. Is Yoga dumb? Sometimes. It depends on who’s teaching.
But, for triathlon/running/cycling/endurance sports? Crossfit can be effective as functional strength work. You have to be smart about it, though. Find a trainer/instructor who understands your goals and isn’t going to yell at you to do more max weight squats when you’re planning on a long hard run that day. That’s how you get hurt. (And, not fast.)
For all that there is Crossfit Endurance and people use it to train for half-marathons or marathons or triathlons or whatever, let’s be real. Crossfit is fundamentally a fast-twitch exercise. If you’re power lifting and sprinting and jumping, you’re not training your slow-twitch muscles. Just watch the 2012 Crossfit Games championships and click to 37:45 or so to see all the ‘fittest athletes in the world’ walking the run leg of their fake triathlon. So, yes, I often Crossfit to work on my strength and that helps me not get injured (or it has, in the past), but I’m still going to actually train for whatever event it is I’m training for. Swimming requires getting in a pool. Biking requires getting on your bike. And, running requires running.
Long answer: I started doing Crossfit sort of an accident a few years ago. My friend, Nate, is a personal trainer and I would workout or train with him. He became more and more interested in functional movement and strength and started incorporating a number of moves and exercises into our workouts, which in retrospect were all Crossfit.
When he went full Crossfit and got certified and started coaching Crossfit, I just sort of transitioned and started going to his new gyms on-and-off. Until the end of 2011 my only experience with Crossfit was with Nate. I know Nate and know he knows his shit. I also know he knows what my weaknesses and strengths are and that he has a background in triathlon coaching. That meant that he also tended to put on classes and programs specifically targeted at endurance athletes, understanding what exercises would help your biking and running or what weaknesses might need addressing before they become injuries. It worked. It was also different, apparently, then just going to a regular Crossfit gym.
Then, though, Crossfit got crazy popular and there were always Groupons and LivingSocials for new gyms. At the end of 2011, I bought a Groupon for Ross Valley Crossfit and went 1-2x/wk (and still every now and then to Nate’s in the city) while training for my first marathon. After that Groupon ran out, I bought another one for TJ’s and went there for three months 1-2x/wk last summer.
Because I lacked an overall training plan last year, I didn’t particularly care if we were flipping tires one day or doing max deadlifts another. Whatever. It was interesting. It was different. And, I got to flip tires, which is what I’m trying to demonstrate here on my way home from a bar in Austin:
On the whole, general Crossfit gyms made me stronger and kept me relatively fit. Both those gyms i went to are also pretty legitimate and the coaches, generally, go through practicing the lifts and warm-ups and understanding technique. But, it varies drastically. One day, I was nursing a sore ankle and wasn’t going to do 400m running sprints in between lifting rounds. I’d row or something instead. The coach/instructor/banker-doing-this-in-her-free-time started to give me a whole talk about: ‘Was it that I couldn’t run or that I didn’t want to run.’ And, well, she got a full dose of bitchitude from me.
The experience at these gyms was my first experience with Crossfit as a regular workout/gym. Most of these places seem to do some kind of warm-up (which is usually rounds of simple exercises, like sit-ups or squats), then some mobility or stretching, some technique practice, and then the workout. The workout is nearly always between 10-30′ and is almost always a set of exercises that you’re usually supposed to do as many of as possible or as quick as possible, ie. 20 box jumps-10 power cleans (weight lifting)-15 pull-ups-200m run — repeatedly as many times as you can in 15′. It’s not hard to see how that can go bad quickly. So, my general rule is if you want to do Crossfit as part of an overall training program that also includes other things like running or biking or playing basketball or, I don’t care, dancing, then you need to not be stupid. You need to not hurt yourself or get injured and you need to not get sucked into some ego pissing match that’s just going to fuck you on your run later, because, you know what, that guy you’re trying to do more box jumps or lift heaver than probably isn’t going to run later. Sometimes, this means ignoring the instructor and sometimes it means working with them. Usually if you explain why you’re there and what you want to do, they’ll be on board, but sometimes they’ll try to talk you into some other version of things that isn’t what you want to do. Annoying.
If you want to do Crossfit as just some general fitness program, then do whatever you want. It’ll probably hurt a bunch at first, then it’ll stop eventually. If you want to do it as part of an endurance training program, then you need to know enough to know it’s not your priority and how to balance a couple of these workouts a week with the endurance workouts that are actually your key workouts – even if there’s no one yelling at you to go harder during those.
A couple of other observations about Crossfit:
– I almost always am the last one done on the first round of anything. But, I almost always am one of the first people done by the end. Why? Because no one has any endurance.
– Oh, and you’re supposed to write down your times or reps or weights at the end, so you can compete against yourself later. But, this information is like never recorded anywhere, so I guess I’m just supposed to remember and care?
– It’s become the go-to workout of stay-at-home moms, so if you want a more low-key workout go to the mid-morning or afternoon classes.
– It’s sort of clique-y, so if you go to the same workouts you’ll get to know people. But, they probably go 4-5x/wk to the same class, so they all know each other and all are doing the Paleo challenge together.
– Eating Paleo is like an integral part of every Crossfit gym and they’ll probably try to talk you into doing some 30 day challenge. I really do not care about this shit.
– The explosion in popularity is causing an explosion in gyms and certified instructors, without a ton of quality control. The gym I have a Groupon to right now in Corte Madera is eh. I’ve been twice and it doesn’t involve any lifting, which is the primary point of Crossfit to me, and I’m not sure the instructor knows what he’s talking about. This is a danger. But, you know, that’s apparently a huge problem with Pilates and Yoga too, though those are a bit more low-key, so less can go wrong.