I recently did some work at the Crossfit Games, Smackdown, in Campbelltown, Sunday 13th October 2013. It was a super hot day with some wild winds blowing up in the afternoon just to make it that little bit more difficult for the athletes. It was my first time witnessing such an event and I left with some mixed feelings about the Crossfit craze.
What is Crossfit?
Simply put, Crossfit is a strength and conditioning brand that combines weightlifting, sprinting and gymnastics. The general aim is to improve muscular strength, cardio-respiratory endurance and flexibility.
An hour-long Crossfit session might follow like this: warm-up; skill development segment (eg. power cleans or squats); high intensity workout of the day (called a WOD); and conclude with individual or group stretching. Heres an example WOD:
5 rounds of: 30sec pull ups, 30sec rest, 30sec push ups, 30 sec rest, 21-15-9 Deadlifts (ie. first set is 21 repetitions then 15 then 9), 20-20-20 Wall Balls (ie. three sets of 20 repetitions).
The Pros and Cons
Performance on each WOD is often scored and/or ranked to encourage competition and track individual progress. There are also Crossfit Games which are events held throughout the year where members of various Crossfit Gyms come together to compete against each other.
The advantage of tracking individual progress and holding competitions is that it gives a person something to work towards – a goal if you like. As many people have experienced, having a goal keeps your efforts focussed and thus the time one might spend on exercising their body is more effective. The challenge Crossfit gyms face however, is ensuring their members are exercising safely at all times.
Olympic lifts such as squats; power cleans; deadlifts; and snatches, not to mention muscle ups; the yoke carry and kettle bell swings involve extremely complex movement patterns. Olympic weight lifters spend years perfecting their technique in some of these movements. Most Crossfitters are aware of the difficulty of these exercises but my experience at the Crossfit Games showed me that few really understand the potential injuries they are subjecting themselves to.
I was both impressed and shocked at what I saw at the clean and press station. Competitors were under strict time constraints in which to perform a certain amount of lifts. With seconds ticking away, supporters yelling and screaming encouragement and the force of 100kg+ loads, I observed, to say the least, many dubious lifts. This is my biggest gripe with Crossfit – the speed at which people are pushed to perform these difficult exercises. When one attempts to lift increasing loads under small time constraints, technique will inevitably suffer. Many of the lifts and carries I saw that day appeared dangerous and as a result, I was kept busy assisting competitors, particularly with lower back pain.
As a sportsman, I completely understand the desire to push the body and explore new boundaries. One might compare Crossfit Games to the Olympic Games – both have their share of amazing accomplishments together with terrible injuries. The fundamental point is, Crossfit is difficult. Whilst people of all fitness levels might be capable of starting Crossfit, their progress should be closely monitored. An emphasis on proper technique before speed should be the primary focus. Furthermore, entries into Crossfit Games should be thoroughly scrutinised.
Some Crossfit gyms do require new members to undergo an introductory program. A trainer will familiarise the person with various equipment within the gym, how to use it and how to perform some of the more difficult exercises. This is a good initiative by such gyms and should be standardised across the discipline. All workouts at Crossfit gyms are supervised and so there is always a qualified trainer helping members with their technique.
Another good point about Crossfitters is their focus on healthy eating. Whilst some take dietary habits to an extreme, the majority practise a balanced diet. The gyms also regularly circulate information amongst their members about the importance of various food groups and suggest recipes too.
At the end of the day, Crossfit gyms are promoting a healthier lifestyle through regular exercise and eating more nutritious foods. The sport is still very much evolving and if Crossfit gyms place safety as a high priority, it is certain to prosper in the future. In the meantime, I am grateful to those injured Crossfitters who have sought my treatment to help then return to the gym.
Greg Glassman – founder of the Crossfit movement, gives his definition of “World Class Fitness” as:
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: deadlift, clean, squat, presses, clean and jerk, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.”
At risk of sounding like every second mother on planet Earth, I would add, “Just be careful.”
*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.