After more than ten years in a standard gym, my business partner and now great friend convinced me to give CrossFit a try. That was a little more than six months ago — and I know I’m never going back. CrossFit challenges me as I’ve never been challenged before. My approach to “fitness” is a much healthier one now, including fundamentals such as actual stretching, reasonable warm ups, true proper form, real strength, more wholesome eating, and cardiovascular training beyond a treadmill.
Now a few months in, I’m beginning to be exposed to the world of CrossFit, including vitriolic internet trolls, exercise “scientists” whose apparent mission is to (unsuccessfully) discredit CrossFit’s methodologies, and even former sponsors (!) who now actively attempt to undermine a fitness revolution that has hundreds of thousands of people around the world taking control of their health in a way not yet seen on such a mass scale.
*Note that none of these experts or critics seem to attack races where people dress up in costume and jump over a miniature flaming log.
One important thing to remember: People are people. There are bad apples in every community. Know an obnoxious CrossFitter? Great, I know a ton of obnoxious people in every walk of life. Every single one. It doesn’t mean the community reflects that person’s character or deficiencies.
I’ve been a member of two CrossFit boxes: CrossFit Dallas Central and CrossFit Big D. While both affiliates have fantastic coaches and a community environment unlike anything I’ve seen, what I’ve seen so far is demonstrateted first hand:
A majority of CrossFitters are average men and women looking to improve their health and participate in a positive community. So why the hate?
Fully aware I’m a newbie in the community, my perspective may be fresh enough to be on point or not informed enough to matter. That being said, what follows is a list of why I believe people have an issue with and attempt to tear down a tremendously positive force for good:
Visual = Visceral
Honest question, if you’re a guy. Does this make you feel great about yourself? Remember, I said be honest. The same could be said for basically any top CrossFit Games female athlete as well.
As humans, the visual is inherently visceral. At their peak, Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, or pick an IronMan winner (not sure anyone outside the community could name one) didn’t necessarily make people feel bad about themselves because they didn’t exactly look like Greek gods. Look at a hardcore bodybuilder and most people have no desire to look the same — look at a top CrossFit Games athlete and most people can’t help but admire them.
Reminder: ”…only bodybuilders are careful not to work the entire body in a workout. This is one of the key distinctions between athletes and bodybuilders.”
— Greg Glassman, Founder of CrossFit
The most visible athletes in the CrossFit world are basically perfect physical human specimens. That doesn’t endear them to most people, because inherently most people are self conscious and have an element of jealousy in their core.
The Jersey Shore Effect
Most people deride bodybuilders — especially of the Jersey Shore type. From the outside, many confuse the disciplined world of CrossFit as a method and community to significantly improve one’s physical and mental capacity with the “Gym. Tan. Laundry.” ridiculousness popularized by the 21st century’s most embarassing television show.
This could not be farther from the truth. Spend a week, even a day, in any CrossFit box and see for yourself if you’re up for having your preconceived notions challenged. Even in New Jersey.
As a reminder, people are people. Are there obnoxious Jersey Shore types that do CrossFit? Of course. There are also plenty of Jersey Shore dudes that play football, lacrosse, and beer pong. That doesn’t ruin it for those sports. Remember that next time you think begin to confuse CrossFit for GTL.
It’s too intense. People get Rhabdo.
A frequent complaint (why are people on the outside are complaining remains a mystery) is that CrossFit is too intense... People who do CrossFit get Rhabdo and almost die because apparently CrossFit trainers push people to near death. Give me, and all of us, a break. It’s just not the case. Some people have gotten Rhabdo doing CrossFit, yes. Is it a widespread issue? No.
CrossFit is about pushing yourself. Apparently fitness to many of its critics is about moderate output and limiting strain of any kind?
Go to a CrossFit box and see their workout of the day. Can’t do it? No problem. Any trainer at any box anywhere in the world will help you scale it, teach and reteach you the motions, and even come up with alternative movements if you are limited. The one thing that won’t happen is to have someone tell you that you are weak or giving up. They may encourage you to try to push yourself a bit more once you start to feel comfortable. That’s called progress.That’s called a challenge.
My favorite moments in CrossFit are watching the fifty-two year old mom of three who’s forty pounds overweight shout in triumph as she finishes her (scaled — gasp!) workout knowing she pushed a little harder this week than last on her path to health and fitness. This time, she ran each part of the running elements rather than walked, and that is a truly beautiful thing.
Some people have gotten Rhabdo (a potentially life threatening condition where your muscles basically explode from extreme strain) doing CrossFit. People have gotten Rhabdo from football, military training, running, and even working out on their own. CrossFit is diligent about informing the community about this issue, makes newcomers undergo a few weeks of introductory classes before moving to more advanced classes, and ensures every single CrossFit coach knows all they need to about this condition.
Another point to remember: only you know your limits. You are also responsible for them.
CrossFit is elitist
Here’s the least plausible criticism of any.
CrossFit is open to anyone who wants to join. Anyone. No restrictions of any kind, though some boxes may not let certain classes of criminals in. Not sure on that one. Makes sense to me though.
CrossFit posts its workouts online, for free, every single day, including instructional videos and journals to help athletes improve on an individual basis.
Would you like to compete in the international competition that is broadcast on ESPN? That’s only $20. Seriously. You don’t even have to belong to a CrossFit box to do so.
*Correction: in an earlier version of this post, I said that competing in the CrossFit Games was free. It was recently changed to $20.Thanks to Craig Kiminsky for calling out this error. As I said at the beginning, I’m new to the community.
This is the exact opposite of the word elitist. It is in fact more open than most every other sport in the world.
The National Football League won’t even let me play without one of a few teams picking me to play on their incredibly limited rosters. What snobs.
It’s too expensive
This is almost too ridiculous to address. If it’s too expensive for you, you are most welcome to not participate and not criticize a collection of over seven thousand small businesses
Quick reality check: CrossFit doesn’t own a single box. It’s thousands of small business owners that put their own name, savings, and future on the line to build their own business. CrossFit charges them between a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a year to use the name CrossFit. That’s it. They prefer to let people control their own destiny in running their own business and set their own prices. These small business owners may create a nice business for themselves, but I have yet to see a CrossFit affiliate owner with mansions and multiple sports cars. So greedy, right?
CrossFit is less expensive than Equinox — the gym meets spa/salon meets happy hour chain — and you receive personalized, hands on instruction every time you step foot into a box.
Reference the point above if you decide you want to pursue CrossFit and can’t afford it (a relative point because most people complaining about the price could simply not go out to bars for a week and pay for a month of CrossFit). All CrossFit workouts are posted online with instructional videos. Again, so terribly greedy (and elite!).
Entrenched interests are fighting back
CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman has said something to the effect that CrossFit has put a multi-billion dollar “fitness” industry on its heels and it is responding poorly.
Exercise scientists, pill pushing doctors, personal trainers, globo gym corporations, and self professed experts are increasingly proven to be wrong in terms of what is best for human performance and improvement, recovery, and true fitness. This is the most plausible reason for the amount of attacks against CrossFit — people’s reputations and livelihoods are on the line. They can’t be proven wrong, even if it means to make up facts.
I’m sure some of you will start throwing your own facts out at this point, whether in the comments section or out loud. Go to http://journal.crossfit.com to read for yourself. I don’t proclaim to be the expert. These articles tell you all you need to know, with extensive proof.
CrossFitters are too intense
In addition to attacks on CrossFit itself being too intense, the haters roll out on pretty regular basis that CrossFitters are too intense. Let’s pause for a second.
Have you met Triathletes? Runners? Cyclists? Bowling leagues? Poker players? Basketball players (the pickup kind)? Hipsters?
Make no mistake — I have tremendous respect for anyone who even qualifies for an Ironman competition.Just pointing out the obvious that people are passionate about their sports, hobbies, and ironic beers.
Yet again, people are people. Are there obnoxious CrossFitters? Of course there are. Probably because people do CrossFit.
Do people who CrossFit like to talk about it? Of course they do. There is a community, sense of shared sacrifice and purpose, and common belief in improvement.
CrossFit HQ isn’t very nice
They are, in fact, very nice people. Everyone I’ve met at HQ is genuinely an incredibly nice person fueled by a passion for the difference they are making in hundreds of thousands of lives around the world.
If you try to destroy what someone stands for, their company, themselves as a person, or even their integrity, do you expect them to turn the other cheek? On a regular basis?
CrossFit defends itself vigorously, and respectfully to those who deserve respect. It also agressively defends its intellectual property from those who would steal it.
No one believes or buys into most corporate social media handles pretend flowery language and platitudes anyway. “I’m so sorry your luggage got lost on your honeymoon. We hope you have a nice day!” That’s not how CrossFit operates. That doesn’t make them “not nice”.
Personal responsibility is taboo
CrossFit and fitness do not exist in a vacuum. CrossFit does not pick your weights or lift them for you. It is your responsibility to learn the movements and techniques and pick an appropriate weight for your skill and experience. The coaches are there to guide you, not do it for you.
Erika Anderson wrote a brilliant piece recently entitled “CrossFit Doesn’t Have A Dirty Little Secret — You’re Just Irresponsible” that sums this up beautifully.
My favorite part:
This is what it comes down to: personal responsibility. I don’t expect my CrossFit coaches to do everything for me. I have to take the responsibility to learn moves correctly and take things slowly. I have to listen to my body and not cave to some kind of “zombie pressure” to keep going when I shouldn’t.
My back is hurt right now and why? Because I did something incorrectly and that’s my fault. I went too big on a weight and that’s my fault. I wasn’t careful — that’s MY fault. That could have happened to me working out in Gold’s Gym by myself.
Of course, most people today don’t want to be responsible for anything at all,especially if it involves something negative.
Not one of these criticisms or issues explains why people hate CrossFit. I set out to write this to understand the irrational hate more than a few people feel for something that is tremendously positive.
In the end, people are people. Rational thought escapes some and others just need something to be angry about or fight with. If you’re one of those, settle in, because CrossFit isn’t backing down or going away.
As the CrossFit community grows worldwide (~150,000 people signed up to compete in the CrossFit Games this year up from ~60,000 last year), the best we can do as a community is continue to serve as a positive example. We can continue to improve our health and fitness on a fundamental level and demonstrate CrossFit’s effectiveness.We can encourage others to join us on a better path to health and support them when they choose to do something else.
Ultimately, we can be confident in our decision to incorporate CrossFit into our lives to improve our mental and physical wellbeing.