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CrossFit has a cult following and its supporters, known as ‘CrossFitters’ swear by its benefits. But how safe is this intense activity style? And if you’re thinking about starting CrossFit, how can you avoid injury?
We’ve been writing about well-known CrossFitters since 2015 and we’ve put together this guide to help you get across all the details in favor for and against CrossFit so you can decide whether this intense workout is for you.
We’ve also pulled a heap of tips together, especially for beginners – so if you do want to start CrossFit, you can do it safely.
But first, let’s find out what CrossFit is.
CrossFit is a form of mixed-modal training that incorporates activities like HIIT, calisthenics, gymnastics, and weightlifting.
CrossFit was developed by Greg Glassman. This training style focuses on combining strength-building and body conditioning through intense functional strength workouts. CrossFitters usually follow a low carbohydrate, high protein diet to reach maximum gains from their workouts.
What’s Functional Strength?
Functional strength or ‘functional fitness’ is essential for how you move and use your body throughout life. This includes core movements and positions such as standing up, sitting down, squatting, and other postures you do at home, work, and the gym.
CrossFit increases your overall strength, agility, endurance, and balance while performing day-to-day movements. It does this by building stamina, strength and muscles, and enhancing flexibility.
How Does It Work?
CrossFit is a super effective way to lose extra pounds and build flexibility. This activity can build agility and strength and improve your aerobic fitness.
A complete CrossFit workout will last around 60 minutes. This includes:
- Warm-up → 10 minutes max
- Strength building → 15 minutes approx.
- WOD → 20-30 minutes
- Cool down → 5 minutes
The WOD is considered the main event and is where the potential for injury and overtraining lay. That holds true for beginners and more experienced Crossfitters.
When you arrive at the box for the first time, try these three (3) tips:
- Focus on your own game → CrossFitters are known to be competitive, with an healthy obsession on their sport. Don’t worry about what they are doing and focus on learning the moves correctly.
- Speak to the trainer→ Ask your trainer for more help, ask them for a modified exercise
- Study the right form → Take a look at the more common moves and watch some “Do’s and Dont’s” videos
Take the time to learn how to execute those moves before you bump into CrossFit.
In case of serious health conditions or if you are new to functional strength, mixed-modal, or HIIT training, consult your doctor before starting CrossFit.
CrossFit is about great technique and the right gear, so consider starting with a decent pair of knee sleeves to support your lifts as your strength improves.
Typical Crossfit Workouts
Whether you are heading to a CrossFit box (that’s a gym) or you’re thinking about doing CrossFit at home, the daily workout is called the ‘WOD’, or workout of the day.
This workout can be modified with help from the CrossFit trainer so that everyone with different fitness levels can perform the circuit.
The WOD involves a combo of 6 or more exercises in a circuit that you perform for reps or for time with short rest periods in between.
It’s is done three to five days a week and these intense exercises are usually around 20 minutes long and in that time you’ll do as many WOD sets as possible.
The movements that are there in a CrossFit session fall into three categories;
- Gymnastics → handstand push-ups, handstands, skipping, etc.
- Olympic lifting → jerks, cleans, snatches, etc.
- Powerlifting → bench, deadlifts, squats, etc
Popular, but Still Questionable
CrossFit came onto the scene in the early 2000s and has gathered a cult following of CrossFitters over the years. Today, there are more than 15000 licensed gym instructors (known as ‘affiliates’) in more than 150 countries.
This activity is entirely focused on intensity and usually, pushes for a higher number of reps. So CrossFit skeptics raise the question of whether it is safe for the body in the long run.
Moreover, this activity’s no-quitting mentality can push your limits, potentially leading to overtraining or even injury mentally or physically.
Let’s discuss why CrossFit is bad in more detail.
Why is CrossFit Bad?
There are 5 key reasons why CrossFit is considered bad:
1. Its Risks Outweigh the Rewards
According to a study associated with extreme conditioning programs, including CrossFit, found that such programs have a disproportionate injury risk, particularly for beginners.
Another study that interviewed 132 CrossFitters found that more than 70% of them experienced an injury as a result of CrossFit, and 9 of them had to have surgery.
According to research, there were some measurable improvements in the body of CrossFitters, but these improvements are comparable to any other conventional training program.
Now the question is, why risk so much when you can achieve the same results with the programs already in place because there is no extra measurable benefit of CrossFit?
2. CrossFit Doesn’t Believe in Exercise Science
CrossFit founder, Greg Glassman is controversial here as he doesn’t believe in exercise science. He thinks that no conditioning and strength programs have been developed by following scientific principles anywhere in the world. This type of mentality is outright dangerous and patently incorrect as well.
3. It Promotes Sloppy Form
The philosophy is to achieve a body form and perform different exercises to make these workouts tougher on your muscles. If your muscles do not function like that, there is always a risk of injury.
Forcing yourself to perform repeated movements in shorter time frames can put your body in a dangerous situation. If you force your body into these repeated movements continually, evidence indicates injury will follow.
Sloppy form is a choice, not a requirement. Most CrossFitters swear by a quality pair of CrossFit grips to increase confidence and improve technique.
4. CrossFit Coaches Might Not Be Sufficiently Qualified
Yes, you heard that right! Becoming a CrossFit personal trainer is much easier than, for instance, becoming a physical therapist. These physical therapists must go through school and spend years to achieve their doctorate degrees.
Personal trainers can only pass a test and get certified within a day. It’s all about how much time the trainer spends in the gym and studies the moves to teach them to novices.
5. CrossFit Mascots Highlight the Sport’s Culture
CrossFit doesn’t have any official mascot, but there are two “unofficial” ones known as – Pukie the Clown and Uncle Rhabdo. Images of these clowns can sometimes be spotted at a CrossFit box, where you might find Pukie the Clown vomiting after a super intense Crossfit WOD.
While Uncle Rhabdo is on a hospital gurney with rhabdomyolysis, a condition where muscles break down and leak muscle cells. Bit intense, hey?
But maybe we have missed the point, and these two clowns are there to remind everyone to exercise responsibly and keep our competitive edge intact. Ultimately, our research indicates that its worth doing a tour of a CrossFit box before you join, check out the people and speak to the coaches. Oh and if you see any Pukie the Clown artwork, run like hell.
Now, let’s take a look at the benefits of CrossFit and see what we get out of if when done well.
Benefits of CrossFit
But not all is bad with CrossFit as this activity has some benefits, and people follow it like a cult. Based on your personal goals, here are 5 of the key benefits that this activity has to offer;
1. It Helps You Build Strength
You definitely should not expect to get the biggest muscles on the beach. Still, those air squats, similar bodyweight exercises, and other workouts that invoice weights, such as barbells and kettlebells, can help you build muscle mass. This workout regimen can improve and increase the muscle mass of your entire body.
2. It Enhances Your Endurance
A 20-minute workout might not be the right option for racing your heart rate up, but with CrossFit, your body can get a cardiovascular workout similar to running sprints.
So, you are working out in a more intense way but for a shorter period. It can incredibly boost your endurance. These workouts increase endurance because your blood oxygen level rises.
3. Builds More Flexibility and Agility
With CrossFit, you can get more flexibility and agility by pushing your body with each workout session. Those box jumps, jumping rope, and broad jumps can help you reach new physical heights.
4. Assists With Weight Loss
Nutrition and diet are another integral part of Crossfit’s philosophy. According to CrossFit Journal, you should eat meat, seeds, nuts, vegetables, little starch, some fruits, and absolutely no sugar.
It is important to keep your intake levels enough to support your workouts, nothing more, nothing less. This regimen supports 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fats, and 30 percent proteins.
You must remember that weight loss is not the primary goal of CrossFit. However, if you want the best results from your CrossFit regime, you must get a proper diet and sleep.
5. Trains Your Brain
CrossFit is an intensely challenging workout that helps you have a better mindset and overcome difficulties. With practice, it becomes easier to set life goals and achieve them by working hard, making you more determined, persevering, and gritty.
Do CrossFit Risks Outweigh CrossFit Benefits?
Now, if you assess the entire scenario about CrossFit, you will know that CrossFit is an activity that does come with its benefits. But the problem is that there are far greater risks associated with this activity.
The main question here isn’t “is CrossFit good for you?” The benefits this activity offers can be achieved with the help of other conventional workout regimes as well.
So, as per CrossFit critics, there is no need to put your body through such an intense level of pain and anguish only to get results you can achieve following the traditional methods. Let’s quickly look at what CrossFit offers and what you must put on the line for it.
Let’s have a look at some Crossfit advantages and disadvantages;
Pros of CrossFit
- Difficulty → HIIT programs are highly effective and efficient in improving cardio endurance and core and muscle strength. CrossFit’s emphasis on HIIT is something that was missing from previous workout regimes in the past.
- Nutrition → This fitness regime focuses on a healthy diet and nutrition and is part of the fitness strategy. This is something that is entirely missing in many other regimens. A diet with vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, healthy oils, lean proteins, and complex carbs is the right way to eat.
- Affordability → CrossFit gyms are inexpensive because there is not much high-tech equipment required. So, more and more people have access to this equipment, which is a huge bonus.
- Portability → As a CrossFitter, you will be only using your body weight, or you can add a few barbells or kettlebells, and you will be able to create your challenging exercises anywhere and anytime.
- Community → You have more peer support throughout, and it guarantees your participation. This activity does a fine job building a community where everyone is welcome. You will always be welcome to join a CrossFit gym regardless of your fitness level.
- Frequency of injuries → Injuries are frequent with CrossFit, especially if you compare it with other workout regimens. As a CrossFitter, you are prone to ruptures, herniated disks, rhabdomyolysis, and other injuries.
- Challenging method → Mastering a correct exercise form is tough and takes time. CrossFit exercises are derived from Olympic weightlifting and gymnastics, and these are the moves that take years to perfect. Therefore, you can’t master them in just a few days. While maintaining good form is key, speed and agility are the bigger priority in Crossfit.
- Peer pressure → You have a strong community to support you, but the flip side is that you also have continuous peer pressure. That same community is pushing you to engage in these exercises continuously.
- Subjective self-glorification →Most CrossFitters deem themselves the fittest on the planet. They might be among the fittest, but this attitude is a reflection of the intensity of their culture. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but worth assessing if this is a good fit for you.
What Do You Need to Do CrossFit at Home?
CrossFit might be the ideal workout to do right in the comfort of your home gym. But can you do that? Let’s find out.
Is It Possible to Do CrossFit at Home?
You can develop an effective CrossFit regimen with a few barbells and kettlebells at home. It’s totally up to you to decide how much weight you want to go for and what equipment you should prioritize – you can even do DIY here. But if you want more equipment, here is what you need.
Home Gym CrossFit Equipment:
- Cardio equipment → You can go for a rower as it can be effective conditioning equipment. With that, you will need a bike that can either be a storming bike or an assault bike, which will serve as an effective upper-body finisher for you. Jump rope is another good option you can consider adding here because it’s an excellent option for your cardio.
- Gymnastic and bodyweight equipment → You can go for wall balls that won’t take much space, and it’s relatively cheap too. Many original CrossFit workouts feature a wall ball. You can also consider going for a pull-up bar, which is low-end equipment, but it can significantly help you in your CrossFit regimens. Moreover, you can go for a ring set and work on your pulling and pushing movements. A weight vest can be an effective tool to make your simple workouts pretty tough.
- Weightlifting → Bumper plates and barbells are some of the most important equipment for your CrossFit workouts. You will use these weights for a wide range of activities in your workout. You can go for a squat rack, which will come in handy when building strength for your CrossFit routines. If you are more focused on weightlifting, you will need a solid platform, too, to train as hard as you want.
- Bodybuilding → Kettlebells and dumbbells come in handy if you are looking to shape up your limbs, and with bands, you will be able to warm up quickly for your CrossFit workouts. You can consider buying shoulder-specific bands and a bench if you don’t have any other stool or chair you can use in your gym and, of course, if you have enough space.
- Box basics → You can go for gym tiles if you don’t want to bother your neighbors with your CrossFit routines. Another option is to go for crash mats here. Going for a burpee box jump is another essential for your CrossFit routine.
- Advanced equipment → If you have enough space, you can always use some advanced equipment for your CrossFit workout. You can consider going for sleds, D-balls, etc.
CrossFit apparel is also a thing – if you’re gearing up, here’s our best of CrossFit shorts for guys.
What Weight Should Your Home Gym Be?
For kettlebells and dumbbells, we recommend buying weights that you commonly find in a program for your division or according to your training plan.
Go for dumbbells that are the same weight as many other workouts will need. It entirely depends upon your current strength and the type of training you want to participate in.
Once you have done your main setup, consider going for cheap options like a wall ball, dumbbells, kettlebells, extra tiling, fraction plates, and weights vests.
Add pull-up bars and rings; if you have enough space, add a rig. If you are serious about your CrossFit home gym, consider using a cardio machine and a weightlifting platform.
Is Crossfit Dangerous?
Let’s find out how dangerous this workout can be for you if you don’t do it properly.
It Can Be Incredibly Unsafe When Done Wrong
Particularly for beginners, there’s an increased risk of injury while performing CrossFit WODs because you might be doing the exercise incorrectly. This can be due to unreliable trainers, the culture and attention on intensity and number of reps or simply the tough mechanics of the overall training itself.
Even more experienced CrossFitters are more prone to injuries than in conventional training programs.
This training is about speed and intensity. This can lead to poor training techniques, which can cause injuries.
Kipping Pull-ups Can Be Problematic
Among the most recognizable, and one of the most contentious Crossfit workouts is the kipping pull-up. It involves a standard pull-up starting position. From there, swinging your legs out in front of you to provide the momentum to propel your body upward helping drive your chest to the bar. The kipping pull up reduces the reliance on arm and upper body strength required by a standard pull-up.
The issue is that beginners are already at a higher risk of injury. Pairing this with a complex exercise and lack of sufficient lat and back strength creates excess pressure on your shoulders, which can lead to many other issues because as you get fatigued, shoulder instability increases, and so does the injury risk.
If you are thinking about ‘kipping’, we love this video, that explains how to get started for a beginner:
Sumo Deadlift High Pulls Can Lead to Shoulder Impingement
The sumo deadlift high pull or SDHP as its known to CrossFitters, is executed in the classic sumo stance and a narrow grip.
This video explains the move, from its most simple (where beginners start out) to advanced:
Many conventional trainers are against SDHPs because of the shoulder position required in this move, effectively impinging the shoulder. Compounding this with weights may only increase the chance of injury. We liked seeing that most CrossFit boxes encourage the SDHP as a progression exercise, starting with the basics.
Glute-Ham Developer Sit-ups Are a Complete Abomination
The GHD sit-ups is performed on a glute ham machine… but in reverse. So, you are adopting an exercise that will use the machine backward. While this in itself is not necessarily a problem, the GHD sit up can cause injury when done incorrectly.
According to medical experts, our spines are not designed for repeated extensions such as these, and injuries will take place. You can go for other exercises to achieve the same results.
If you are going to give the GHD sit up a try, make sure you check out the right and wrong way to do it:
Doing Olympic Lifts Can Be Disastrous
Most CrossFit programs have explosive Olympic lifts, as many as possible within a set time frame. These movements are technically tough, and you can be 100 percent safe only if you do them cautiously and are not in a rush.
Rushing such movements is the whole point of CrossFit. It’s because our bodies can’t sustain the mandatory coordination for a lengthy period. So, pushing it to the limit will not end well.
The Olympic Snatch is Bad News for Your Knees
Sancta is the movement that is associated with Olympic weightlifting. It’s where you begin by squatting on the floor and then exploding upward, and with the momentum, you lock your arms and end up standing with the bar above your head.
It’s a move that is extremely stressful on your shoulders, knees, and elbows. If you haven’t practiced it properly, you won’t be in good shape to do it. It can lead to various injuries and some even life-threatening ones.
We highly recommend you do proper research before you get into CrossFit. Follow a proper diet plan with your CrossFit routine. Make sure to level up step by step, and don’t rush yourself through the difficult levels, or you will injure yourself.
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