It is easy to point out the bad things that are found in gyms across America, not just at CrossFit gyms — or any gym with any methodology. If there are any methods that are possibly injurious towards the health of any individual, I have to question its use in an exercise program.
Once many moons ago, my mother had an injury — not related to exercising and probably linked to not enough exercising — that caused her to introspectively reflect about her health. Essentially, her thoughts consisted of what kinds of actions could she take to help prevent this injury from happening again, and what actions can she take today that will help jump start her health all over again.
She began taking group exercise classes in the local commercial gym, and it was interesting to hear over and over how uninteresting these classes were, as I had just started personal training at the time. From her point of view, they were simply boring, and she could teach it better if she wanted to.
This prompted another discussion a few months later, when a certain group exercise certification would be held nearby, and I told her I would do it with her if she would go to become certified. After a few minutes, we both signed up together.
This story is meant to reflect on two lessons: If your mom or dad wanted to get into their health so badly that they would stand boredom to become “healthier,” what will happen if they have fun doing the same objective? And secondly, what kinds of ways can you get people’s foot in the door, without having to twist an arm in the process?
My background can help set the tone for why I think the way I think. My name is Miguel Aragoncillo, and I’m currently working at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP), a gym where we place a healthy emphasis on quality of movement, identifying the missing links in an athlete’s or client’s current movements, and filling in those gaps to the best of our abilities. Before I began coaching at CSP, I was working as a personal trainer and coach in various sports performance facilities in and around New Jersey.
I’ve competed in powerlifting, and along with my background in breaking (breakdancing) stemming from high school throughout the present, I believe I very well might have joined a CrossFit gym at some point in my life just to see how things played out.
Choosing the Best Methods
Whenever a client, athlete, or other coach asks me about the efficacy of a specific fitness method, I usually think about it for a minute, then I would always flip it on them and ask, “What’s your goal?
If your goal is to win a competition in powerlifting, which requires a maximal, one time repetition for the squat, bench, and deadlift, then the method will require working on the qualities that will improve that requisite strength. If you are aware of the competition’s numbers, and you know your own specific numbers, then you can begin to devise a plan to work on closing that gap.
If your current fitness levels do not reflect the ability to handle a higher volume type of training, this is what you should work on. If your technique does not reflect the most efficiency in your requisite movements, this is what you should work on.
Similar analogies can be made with respect to Olympic lifting, gymnastics, running, and any other sport that may be “umbrella-ed” and taught within a CrossFit gym.
Interestingly enough, there is more than enough scientific evidence suggesting that for each respective sport listed above, there are specific energy profiles of elite athletes, along with the notion that performance decreases as fatigue increases. (1)
So what is the goal?
- If it is to be the best at powerlifting, then train with those methods.
- If it is to be the best at Olympic lifting, then train with those methods.
- If it is to be the best at gymnastics, then train with those methods.
- If the goal is to get your mom to become a little bit healthier, then join a Zumba certification class so she can begin having fun while dancing again. (By the way, you should do my mom’s Zumba class. Chances are it is more fun than any other dance class you’ve taken before — ever.)
If you just want a workout, look better aesthetically, and improve upon your health, then you can do almost anything in the name of fitness to accomplish this goal. Watch what you eat, and move around in a variety of ways is my end message towards that goal.
When you begin working out, hopefully you’re moving ideally in a safe manner that allows for…
1. Appropriate joint positioning
- Can your joints get into the positions in order to adapt to the stress? If the answer is no, then it’s possible you’re placing stress on hard structures of your body (aka bones) on one another, and possibly damaging soft structures within your body (aka everything else).
2. Familiarity with skills and technical work
- Can you demonstrate that you have baseline requisite understanding of how a movement works? If you are practicing ring work such as front levers, skin the cat, and also working on split jerks with a snatch grip position, yet you can’t do an appropriate looking push up or bodyweight squat that even a young toddler would know doesn’t look good, are you supposed to be practicing that skill?
3. Working out at an exertion level that will allow you to recover appropriately for the next workout you have.
- Are you working out just to feel tired? Or are you working out towards a specific quantitative goal? Or perhaps you are working out for aesthetic purposes?
If you are following these blueprints, then you can begin to see that this article is not directly aimed at identifying the good, the bad, and the ugly with CrossFit as a methodology, but with gyms across America. In some cases, going to a CrossFit gym might be safer than not going to a gym at all, which is of course highly dependent on several factors.
I know that hundreds if not thousands of personal trainers don’t qualify their work under those three bulletpoints, let alone an international brand that rhymes with “RossFit.” So if as a gym you are following those three bulletpoints, then more power to you!
Perhaps this reveals my bias, as I want the athletes, clients, and people I work with to be surrounded with the most efficacious method towards achieving whatever goal they have. At the end of the day, almost 99% of those reading this are adults, and can likewise make adult decisions such as choosing how they want to attain levels of fitness, and varying levels of aesthetics.
As a non-CrossFit trainer, I do have to respect that not every CrossFit gym is not the same — the workouts differ, the coaches are all at different levels, and the levels of individuals will fluctuate from time of day, to time of year, to type of online coupon you found for your local CrossFit gym. In fact, it might even be “unfair” for me to judge CrossFit as a whole with this in mind. I try not to let one, or two, or three bad experiences cloud my vision of a methodology as a whole.
If I had one bad pizza in my life, and I “swore off” pizza as a cause of this, I’d be missing out on a lot of other opportunities to try some really good pizza if I make all future pizza decisions off of a singular past pizza.
I digress. If there were to be a good, bad, and ugly scenario with CrossFit, it would go like this.
Overall, I believe that anything that gets people into a healthy decision to begin working out is the right marker. Who is to say that starting CrossFit won’t get some individuals into Olympic lifting? Or long distance running? Or begin taking care of their bodies in ways they would not have, prior to the methodology of CrossFit being born?
In actuality, I believe CrossFit is very empowering in several respects. Many have the concept of “downgrading” a movement in weight or intensity if the movement is too advanced for beginners or specific individuals as they see fit. This is inclusive in nature for exercise, meaning that everyone is accepted! Many individuals who need support could do very well with respect to this inclusivity!
Who is to say that improving general fitness qualities is a bad thing for those individuals who have had sons and daughters join, only to join themselves as a parent? Families getting fitter, stronger, and growing together is something positive that’s tough to quantify, though we feel its effects.
With lifts such as squatting, deadlifting, Olympic lifting, and gymnastic oriented movements, technique is paramount. Performing these movements requires fine tuned sensory awareness, along with great physiological qualities of strength, power, and speed, often for long periods of time. Sometimes, these repetitions are pushed past the point of fatigue. When this occurs, this may not be the best for integrity of the skeletal structure, tissue quality, and hormonal integrity.
With these things in mind, I’d have to argue that for any trainer — not just those with CrossFit certifications or using that methodology — may run into these issues.
As a non-CrossFit trainer, I pause when people ask me for my thoughts on the “dark side” or “dangers” of CrossFit. Blanket statements are dangerous for any fitness methodology, and as I’ve grown and learned as a trainer, that’s become increasingly clear to me.
Social media will always harp on the very bad to dismiss CrossFit “horror stories.” For that reason, I cannot objectively point a finger and say, “These are the ugly parts of CrossFit,” because each part is independent from gym to gym. What happens in one gym does not reflect what happens in another gym across the nation. It is impossible to clump CrossFit as a whole, because there are several thousand minds acting independently now. I’d have to visit each independent box, and see how they run things, and even then it is simply one man’s opinion on what is “right or wrong.”
Doing the Right Thing
So with that under our belts, I have to point the direction of my argument to another avenue: Instead of just the bad stories, what about the good stories of people improving their aesthetics, getting stronger, and improving their overall health?
CrossFit gyms nationwide have the ability to demonstrate the power of what happens when local communities strive together. I’m not too interested in CrossFit at the national or international levels — I’m more interested in what the local communities are doing. Are they doing fundraiser events? Are they doing after school groups with special rates? Are you hosting appropriate technical skill workshops for various movement philosophies?
As a tool towards looking inwards towards your own health, CrossFit is a great method as long as your health is placed on a high priority. What I mean by this is that the very action of joining a CrossFit gym might ask some people to evaluate what they were doing health wise beforehand. Why can’t CrossFit be the way people get involved with their own health and lives? I guarantee my squats, deadlifts, and bench press were not the best or most efficacious when I first started lifting.
At the end of the day, as a coach and avid athlete, you should hold movement quality above everything else, then improve upon fitness qualities of strength, power, speed, endurance in whatever ways and shapes you see best.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
1 – Jemni, Monèm, et al. “Heart Rate and Blood Lactate Concentration Analysis During a High-Level Men’s Gymnastics Competition.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 14.4 (2000): 389-394.