Cutting CrossFit a Break

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There’s certainly been no shortage of scathing articles directed towards CrossFit, its brand, and its oftentimes cultish followers in recent times.

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

I don’t know if it’s something in the water or because ObamaCare starts in less than a week, but it seems as if there’s been an influx of “CrossFit is the worst thing since Pepsi Clear” themed articles that have hit the media-stream as of late.

This is NOT one of those articles.

Yep, that’s right:  My name is Tony Gentilcore, and I’m growing tired of the incessant CrossFit bashing.

Now to be fair: I’ve written my share of “choice words” towards CrossFit in the past.  And to be perfectly frank, there’s still many things about it that I don’t agree with nor advocate.  Then again, I think Veganism is kinda weird and there are some people out there who think Justin Bieber makes good music – so who am I to judge?

We could make an argument that Veganism has it’s own list of benefits, and well, Beiber does have a few top ten hits so there’s that.

Moreover, there are plenty of things I used to quote-on-quote “hate” that I changed my mind on later in life. Hell, I used to hate Ben Affleck and Brussels sprouts, now I love em both!

Seemingly, however, there’s a growing “line” being drawn in the sand when it comes to CrossFit between those who love it and those who hate it.

It’s almost as if we’re in the midst of a modern day West Side Story where the Sharks and Jets still hate one another, albeit instead of knife fights and dance-offs, in this version the weapons of choice are kipping pull-ups and arguing over whether or not potatoes can be considered Paleo.

Those who love it espouse it as the end-all-be-all of fitness and point to it’s growing (viral?) popularity.  I don’t know about other cities, but here in Boston I can’t walk more than four blocks without walking past a new CrossFit affiliate.

Those who hate it blame CrossFit for everything from global warming to the copious amounts of injuries amongst its members.

To that last point a friend of mine  – who’s an avid CrossFitter herself – linked to an article that’s been making its rounds across the social media spectrum titled CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret.

To summarize:  it’s basically an article taking a look into how CrossFit “nurtures” a culture of exercising to excess, to the point where the condition rhabdomyolysis – where myoglobin is leached into the bloodstream from muscle cells literally exploding,

which in turn puts many bodily systems (kidneys) at risk of shutting down – is a real concern for some members.

I don’t know the numbers offhand:  but there have been several documented cases of rhabdo in the CrossFit community.

They even have a mascot for it ————————–>

I’d argue not the best choice, but I’m not the head of the marketing department.

My friend asked for my opinion on the article, and here’s what I said (with some other stuff added because I actually had some time to sit down and think about what I wanted to write).

I think it (the article) is a bit sensationalistic – and just a way to take a hot topic, use it to toss some numbers out there, raise some alarms, and to garner some significant web traffic.

It absolutely succeeded in this regard.

This isn’t to say that I don’t agree with some components of the article. We had a client who switched to CrossFit a few years back, and she was someone who’d I have complete confidence in being able to do the WODs with no issues at all.

Except that she was in really good shape and had a killer mentality, and did NOT know when to stop. She was one of those people who would push herself, and unfortunately she ended up in the hospital for a week with a severe case of Rhabdo.

It IS a REAL concern, and something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

This, among other things is what I don’t like about CrossFit. I don’t like that there’s a low barrier to entry.  All someone has to do is take some weekend course to become “CrossFit Certified,” then pay the franchise fee, and BAM, they’re in.

Baking a homemade apple pie is harder!

It uses a one-size-fits-all programming model which I think is asinine considering you have people from all walks of life walking into CrossFit gyms on a daily basis.  To say that Mrs. Smith who’s never lifted a weight in her life (let alone knows the difference between a squat and deadlift), is 25 lbs overweight, has two herniated discs, and just so happens to be a type 1 diabetic should be doing the same workout as Greg, who’s a 25 year old former college athlete and has been lifting weights for the better part of a decade, is downright absurd.  But it happens.  A lot.

Compounding this last point, and while it varies from affiliate to affiliate, there’s a definite lack of assessment which takes place, as well as a lack of a proper progression and regression system.

As an aside: Last weekend at the CP Seminar I was talking with a fellow strength coach and he mentioned that his wife walked into a CrossFit affiliate, and without any assessment, she was put through a workout that included overhead squats and high-rep cleans and snatches on day one.

I don’t know about everyone else reading – but I’d trust a coach who advocates high-rep OLY lifts about as much as I’d trust a barber with a mullet.

But now I sound like a cynical SOB and am just regurgitating what everyone else says.

To save face there’s also a lot that I like about CrossFit.

There’s no question that it builds an unparalleled sense of camaraderie.  People are EXCITED to train and workout!  How can I hate on that?

In an era where we celebrate gluttony to the point where competitive eating is broadcast on ESPN, it’s hard for me to dismiss anything which gets people fired up to get off their ass and move  – regardless of how much it makes me scratch my head.

CrossFit also emphasizes compound movements (awesome – assuming they’re coached well), and they don’t waste time advocating traditional “aerobic training,” which as many may recall from a few weeks ago, is a topic which caused a shit-storm on my blog when I suggested that there are other ways to elevate your heart-rate other than climbing onto a treadmill.

Offhandedly, I do feel that CrossFit isn’t the right choice for a lot of people who don’t otherwise move well.  There are people who take on a bit more than they can chew, who end up hurt, and worse, end up causing serious harm to their body.

And much of that is on the shoulders of the affiliates who don’t take the time to properly assess their clients and who don’t otherwise implement appropriate exercises progressions and regressions.

I really have a hard time believing people can’t agree on that point.

The affiliates who give a shit, actually assess their clients, and take the time to coach the lifts properly are the ones that generally do very well and are the ones which I applaud.  Unfortunately, it’s the “bad apples” that give CrossFit as a whole its bad reputation.

I “get” the tone of the article, and understand that it’s just trying to raise awareness of an actual issue, but it most certainly doesn’t apply to all affiliates or should serve as the umbrella of the CrossFit mentality.

Many affiliates do what they do very well and they should be applauded for their efforts.

Another article, or rather picture, which has set the interwebs ablaze is that of 35-year old Lea-Ann Ellison who, two-weeks before her due date, was photographed, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY…………..lifting weights.

This is a case where I wish people would just STFU and mind their own business.

To her credit, Ms. Ellison, prior to her pregnancy (which for some reason many people deem a disease that should leave every woman incapable of doing anything past putting dishes away or walking up a flight of stairs), had been participating in CrossFit for two and a half years.

It’s not like she decided two months into her pregnancy that she’d head down to her local affiliate and start tossing barbells over her head and dragging cars across the parking lot.

She had a solid foundation of fitness underneath her belt, and even though she was consistently training throughout her pregnancy, she admitted that the weights she was using were far LOWER than what she’d normally use, and that her workouts were far less CrossFitish in nature.

She listened to her body and knew when to back off when needed (which is advice I’ve given to every female client I’ve trained through their pregnancy as well).

You can read more HERE, if you’d like.

Here’s a woman who had the audacity to take a more proactive approach to her pregnancy and not subside to societal norms, and people are going to go out of their way to judge her for it?

The human body is a lot smarter than we give it credit for.  If putting a barbell on our back and squatting it (or doing anything which requires physical exertion) was so detrimental to the existence of the human race, we would have died out a loooooooooong time ago.

I’m unsure about what actually caused all the hooplah in the first place: whether it was the fact that she was performing CrossFit workouts so close to her due date, or that it was a provocative photograph that was taken?  I guess that’s up for interpretation.

But at the end of the day people are exercising.  And that’s cool.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Brian Lelli

    I'm happy that you wrote this. I've been a bit of a fan-boy for a while and wondered where you weighed in on this topic. It's just sad that the 'bad apples' can easily spoil it for the bunch. The bigger CrossFit gets, the more people will do it (and coach it), the more 'bad apples' will appear. There are lots of intelligence out here in the CrossFit community!

    September 27, 2013 at 10:10 am | Reply to this comment

  • Roland Denzel

    Very fair assessment, all around. Glad to see you've come around on the Brussels spouts.

    September 27, 2013 at 10:10 am | Reply to this comment

  • Roland Denzel

    One systemic issue seems to be the lack of policing of assessments, etc.from up high. We have 5-6 CFs in our area, and newbies will choose the one with the better story. If they go into the one that does a good job assessing and putting them on a more remedial program, they just go to another one where they get to an athlete. ;) CF headquarters needs to do a better job of training the affiliates on assessing and properly training people who aren't quite as awesome. If they did, maybe they'd get to be awesome one day.

    September 27, 2013 at 10:13 am | Reply to this comment

  • B-Grrrrl

    As a preggo lady of 22 weeks and still lifting, I think I'm in love with Lea-Ann Ellison. Or it could just be the hormones...?

    September 27, 2013 at 10:43 am | Reply to this comment

  • jimbobv2

    Choosing a CrossFit gym to join is a lot like choosing a doctor or a lawyer. There are a lot of them out there, but not all of them are created equal. My girlfriend came to a free class at my CF gym and the head coach & owner regressed a workout that I was doing to her level that was nowhere near mine. And while she wanted to start fundamentals the next week, he game her homework (lunges, planks, deadlifts with a 20 lb ball, etc.) to improve her core strength, stability, and groove new movement patterns before she even jumped into fundamentals because she wasn't ready. She was disappointed, but also happy that he didn't allow her to go for too much, too soon. There are solid CF coaches out there. People just need to find them. I also wish the CF haters would go to a Level 1 seminar or go to a few classes at a solid CF gym before writing stuff. It might open their minds a bit.

    September 27, 2013 at 11:27 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jason Struck

    Sell out. I wanted you to really give me the business here.

    September 27, 2013 at 11:41 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      hahaha. I think I gave a few legit reasons of why I have a "beef' with CrossFit. There are still a lot of things that make my eyes bleed, but I can also say the same for boot camps, powerlifting videos, etc.

      September 27, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Cody Bartosh

    Wise words. Unfortunately the stuff that gets done well goes mostly unnoticed in the mainstream. The real focus should be on the miracle growing all by itself in her belly. Obviously a smart women and whether the photos were for herself to celebrate her health, pregnancy and strength or to start an interweb firestorm she succeeded at both. Cheers to her for being awesome!

    September 27, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kylee

    I donno if I got a mild case of rabdo or what the heck it was but was freaky. I was taking oly lifting classes with a trainer who I realized right away was a crossfit coach too (high reps, pushing too hard, overhead kb swings, and workouts I donno if I got a mild case of rabdo or what the heck it was but it was freaky. I was taking oly lifting classes with a trainer who I realized right away was a crossfit coach too (high reps, pushing too hard, overhead kb swings, and workouts at the end that were just too brutal to end an hour long oly lifting sesh with). Anyway at the time I had been strength training for a few years and could do pull ups chin ups dead lifts etc. so decent fitness level. But just because I am strong and was a somewhat natural Olympic lifter doesn't mean I should be pushed so hard! After I think the 4th session of brutal overhead work a couple hours later my arms started swelling and I could barely bend them they were so swollen. I googled everything but couldn't figure out what it was. I iced it and it just kept getting worse. This was over two years ago so I can't remember everything but eventually after about a day the swelling went down. There was no brown pee or any other side effects that I can recall so who knows what it was but this article definitely jumped out at me! I love Olympic lifting an I did an intro course at a crossfit gym (there are no oly lifting coaches in my area that I could find) and its like with every trainer I have tried to hire, I know more than they do and that is sad! It's actually funny I am taking another oly lifting class for fun to use the equipment etc. at a sports excellence facility (a very good one) and its another crossfit guy teaching it. You know right away because of the cues ad style they teach. I donno I think crossfit is just a bit too disorderly and prefer different methods. I'm not saying its all bad but I really just do not like it from my experiences. Ya it gets people strength training but not necessarily in a good way. I could rant forever obviously haha.....

    September 28, 2013 at 2:17 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Sorry to hear about your experience Kylee. But I do think you make a lot of solid points and at the end of the day it comes down to goals and what's a good fit for each individual. You know better and understand that high rep OLY lifting is, well, dumb. Unfortunately it's part of the CrossFit mantra and it's probably not going away anytime soon. On the bright side, I do feel there are more and more affiliates taking the time to screen people and to coach the OLY lifts according to each person's ability level. But I do feel this is more the exception than the rule.

      October 2, 2013 at 9:55 am | Reply to this comment

  • Alan Reilly

    Well said man. "There's always three sides to every story." 1.) Glassman. 2.) The CF-hating mob. 3.) Pasano Tony!

    September 28, 2013 at 5:33 am | Reply to this comment

  • Michael Harris

    Tony - another great article and I appreciate the balance approach you took. What I felt was missing in both your commentary and the "Dirty Secret" article were specifics: symptoms, the physiology, etc. I went down to Rhabdo during a military training event five years ago. I haven't shared it with anyone until now, but this thread has compelled me to get the details out. Here's my experience: http://40somethingfitnesstransformation.blogspot.com/2013/09/why-i-will-never-endorse-crossfit-my.html If you have any questions or comments about it, please feel free to reach out. This is an important subject and it's finally getting some meaningful attention

    September 29, 2013 at 11:39 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kyle Schuant

    I don't see why we should cut them a break. If Gentilcore's gym had a new trainer who was really good at building community among their clients, but didn't assess people before starting them off, had people do high reps with terrible form, who kept injuring people, and who in response to the injuries had not eased off but instead put up posters of cartoons joking about vomiting and having your muscles break down under a workout, would they cut the new trainer a break? Plus that trainer boasting about their training methods producing "elite fitness" and all the other methods being inferior, this trainer would not make many friends among the staff.

    September 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I can't say I disagree with you there Kyle. In fact, I agree wholeheartedly. I think my main point of the article was just to point out that: 1. There are "some" redeeming qualities of CrossFit. 2. There ARE some affiliates who do it "okay," and even a select few who do it very well. 3. That I'm not just some ornery bastard all the time....;o)

      October 2, 2013 at 10:00 am | Reply to this comment

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  • Notasdumbasyouall

    Yeah, let's all risk losing a child in order to exercise! Idiots!

    August 4, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Hmmm, I think that's a bit of a drastic statement. Women who are pregnant are MORE than able to exercise at a fairly high level. All is not equal of course, and everyone is different, but to say she (was) going to cause any harm because she was exercises is a bit of a blanket statement. Maybe this post will help shed some light: http://www.tonygentilcore.com/blog/what-to-expect-in-the-gym-when-youre-expecting/

      August 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Reply to this comment

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  • Brandon Clift III

    Fair assessment and couldn't agree more in regards to the screening process. Crossfit throws in some VERY advanced mechanical movements that should not be taken lightly. I am worried that in Australia you can get your level 1 CrossFit certificate and train people without having prior study (Certificate 3,4 in fitness). Courses in which you can become legible for insurance. I also found that the level 1 misses some very obvious elephants in the room. However I completely understand that it is difficult to cover movement mechanics in its entirety over just 2 days in an already packed course. I am interested to see how things evolve. Sincerely One Massive CrossFit Fan!

    May 21, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Reply to this comment

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