Note: Read ALL of this before attacking me. This is fair and objective.
CrossFit has exponentially increased in popularity over the last 8 years or so. Most of us have been involved with it in some manner, and many people actively dislike it. Any mention of CrossFit will yield a series of (usually deserving) jests and japes in the comments.
[spoiler]My experience with CrossFit started in early 2008 when my Exercise Physiology professor included a picture or video in one of his powerpoint slides. I had heard of CF at this point, yet I looked into a bit further. I was jaded with typical bodybuilding style workouts and had already made plans to incorporate more strength training and power exercises. At the time I weighed about 195 and was working up to a set of 405×6 on high bar squat and could dumbbell press at least a pair of 90 pounds for sets of six. I also ran a 5:31 mile completely de-conditioned — I don’t recommend this (some of you know the story). I was a decent athlete (I power cleaned 305 in high school and played a year of college football before quitting) who finally had a physically challenging endeavor, and I was hooked. My first “Fran” time was 4:00 and the second was 2:30. I followed the main site for a few months and eventually did “Grace” in 2:57, “Angie” in 9:50 (which was almost as fast as Chris Spealler, who weighed 60 pounds less than me — I’ve met him and like him), a sub 7 minute “Helen”, and 25 rounds in “Cindy”. I was pretty good, I guess.
Anyway, long story short, I started combining strength training with CF style stuff, opened a place while in my first and only semester of grad school, got my CF Level II “certification”, and eventually moved to Texas to run Mark Rippetoe’s gym. During the time I was at Rip’s, I helped with the barbell seminars he conducted for CrossFit, developed my programming, spent a lot of time with various important people in CrossFit (including Greg Glassman), been to many CF gyms, met a lot of good people, and have a unique point of view on everything CrossFit. [/spoiler]
Growth of CrossFit
[spoiler]In the time I’ve been involved with CF, it has exploded. At various points I’ve calculated out how much money they make a month. In January of 2012, they have 15 Level I Certifications scheduled. My Level I had 70 people at it. Let’s say there’s an average of 35 people at each one. That means there are 525 people paying $1,000 which earns CrossFit $525,000…on Level I certifications alone. Let’s say it costs $25,000 to pay for the travel, lodging, and food of all of the coaches, and CF gets half a million dollars a month. This doesn’t take into consideration any of the specialty seminars, which take at least 30% of the cost, merchandise, affiliation fees, Level II charges, the CF games revenue ($75 a person to spectate), and whatever deal they have with Reebok and ESPN.
I want to make it clear: I’m not saying this is a bad thing. If nothing else, Greg Glassman is the ultimate marketer. Starting as a personal trainer and now earning at least a million dollars a year is fucking impressive. Yes, CF charges a lot for their stuff, but people have and will pay for it. CrossFit is a marketing machine, and that’s impressive. [/spoiler]
Why Don’t People Like CrossFit?
[spoiler]Ah, here we go. There are lots of people who are still new to CF. They don’t understand why IronGarm and the Couch Thread destroys CrossFit on a regular basis. THIS TIMELINE is the ultimate list of why some people hate CF with a seething passion. This list, of course, only points out the bad. It primarily points out all of the negative qualities of Greg Glassman, particularly narcissism, destroying anyone who disagrees with him, burning bridges, and acting like a goober.[/spoiler]
[spoiler]Yes, Glassman acts in a way that will alienate anyone who aren’t his loyal followers. However, I’ve had dinner with him on several occasions (because I was with Rip) and know him probably better than a lot of the “haters”. I never disliked him, although he does act political when in large groups (like at the since discontinued Exercise Science seminars — there were only two). He’s generally a nice guy, kind of rambles some times, and (in my opinion) fell into the trap that rich men have fallen into for centuries: let natural desires flourish because there is more than adequate money to partake in them. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with the way he lambastes people publicly. I’ve seen him pretty drunk (in all fairness, everyone was at least kind of drunk) and maybe fell into some alcoholism for a little bit. I think that his weakness with desires led him to be inconsistent with running his company. He fucked some people over (the reason Rip removed himself from CF) and let his subordinates run things while he kind of basked in the glory. I think the popularity, fame, and earning so much money augmented an existing brash, elitist mentality.
But I see it as protective of his “brand”, even if it’s in an extreme way. We can hate the way he acts, but the way he acts made him successful, and that’s why I think it’s interesting. The bottom line: he’s not so bad once he’s not having to put on a show to pump his brand up. I’m definitely not speaking for Rip, but I think he would agree that Glassman is a good guy to hang out with, eat some food, and drink some beer/wine/scotch/gin with (although apparently he doesn’t really drink gin, despite the jokes). However, none of you will ever hang out with him in such a setting, and it’s understandable to judge him on his actions. His actions, especially in that list above, make him look like a McCarthy/Robespierre tyrant who destroys doubters and steps on people to build himself up. [/spoiler]
[spoiler]Like any leader, Glassman created a team to delegate responsibility to so that he didn’t have to do everything himself. CrossFit got so big so fast that this organization was pretty disorganized (as of 2010, I haven’t been around these people since). There is a team of people who directly help out with HQ, and then there is a secondary team that consists of the HQ trainers (this is a very loose summary). HQ would include Nicole Carroll, Tony Budding, Dave Castro, and some others who aren’t in the spotlight or that I don’t know. I’ve been around Nicole (and did a workout with her, Tony, and some others in Rip’s gym at their request — I was drunk and it was midnight), but we didn’t really talk much.
I’ve talked with Tony a few times, had some argumentative discussions, and e-mailed with him for a bit. I don’t know him really well, but I think Tony would at least accept my opinion that he’s a bit weird. He’s done a lot of different things in his life and seemed to fit into a role of developing CF. Fundamentally I disagree with him on various things (hence our discussions, which were always civil), but in the time I chatted with him I felt he was kind of closed off. Tony denied publishing one of my programs in the CF Journal because it wasn’t backed up with evidence (I had lots of success with it), and that irritated me, but I wouldn’t say I hate Tony. He doesn’t utterly destroy people and he’s civil with discussion, even if he’s not open to a non-CF mentality. I disagree with Tony, but I don’t hate him. However, if your only experience with him is seeing him on CrossFit.com, then I can understand that repeating Glassman’s diatribe will give you a negative view of him.
The only person I didn’t really like was Castro. I admit I didn’t really talk to him, but at my Level II he was supposed to be running it, and he kind of chilled on his cell phone the whole time and let Adrian Bozman (who is a legitimate awesome guy) conduct things. I thought that was pretty shitty, but I don’t know the guy.
There are some other people in HQ, like Todd Whitman, who I really liked when I met them. Todd ran my Level II, and then later came to a Barbell Seminar that I was coaching with Rip. He seemed to be attending for HQ as a double agent of sorts, but he’s always a very nice guy and willingly wanting to learn.
I see HQ consisting of people Glassman brought in because they were reliable and friends with Glassman. Realistically, wouldn’t we all do the same thing? I don’t see Nicole and Dave as high quality coaches, despite the fact that they were head of the HQ Trainers, but they can disseminate Glassman’s information to others. I’ve never been coached by them or anything, but I’m very particular about coaching and I would expect more out of the leaders of the pack. [/spoiler]
The Cult-Like Community
[spoiler]CrossFit can be fun, especially if you’re a person who hasn’t done anything physically challenging since playing sports, or ever. Athletes enjoy it because it because it provides that difficulty that their training did. Unathletic people like it because it makes them feel athletic. People who never had good social group experiences like it because, even if they are crazy, CF communities are always positive, supportive, and good natured. CF brings people together and makes them compete every day in a society that shies away from competition. The challenge creates a heightened sense of self worth that develops into being an elitist.
Due to how Glassman and HQ conducts themselves, they’ve created a community that acts similarly. The die-hards perceive everything they do as the best. I’ve seen (on the CF forum) people questioning Michael Phelps eating regime and wondering if he could be better if he “ate paleo or zone” (or some shit). CrossFit is always calling out specialized athletes and saying, “I bet you can’t do this” when the reverse is always true. Zealotry and the sense of supreme back-patting is never a good sign, and that’s what CF consists of. People hate CF because of this. This internet presence of “elitism” is why the rest of the world hates everything about CF. And I don’t blame them.
The forum addicts are proud of the fact that they think other populations can’t do what they can do. They revel in the fact that they got injured doing CF. They want to push so hard that they vomit. This only reflects a certain percentage of the CF population, yet the worst part of any population will create the stereotype. For example, there are people probably think that 70’s Big is full of fat guys who think eating ice cream every day is a good idea. But, the bad apples make CF what it is, and I hate this part of CF. [/spoiler]
[spoiler]I’m not a fan. It seems that everything is derived from Glassman’s understanding of how to coach. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not the best. Glassman has some kind of gymnastics background which means he doesn’t have a barbell background. He’s an intelligent guy — I know some of you are snickering, but he really is a smart guy — and was able to soak information about strength training, Olympic weightlifting, kettlebells, and more and apply it into what is “CrossFit”. Yet, as someone who coaches a lot of lifting, things aren’t always mechanically sound and the emphasis on developing technique is silly. CF puts a premium on teaching the body weight movement first, then moving into weighted stuff. Teach an “air squat”. Meticulously break this down, and then move to a PVC pipe. Dick around with this, then move to a bar.
A barbell is infinitely scalable. If someone can do a body weight squat and they want or need to get stronger, then use whatever barbell they can and have them squat every day. The problem with PVC is that the mechanics of the bar-lifter system are completely different with no weight and with weight. There are even problems with emphasizing body weight, or “air” squats; people are taught to extend the hell out of their lumbar spine (whether it be the thoracic/lumbar or lumbar/sacral junction) and are treated like they have a problem if they can’t do it. A bar on the back can help immobile people gain flexibility by pushing them into the bottom of a squat — it happens all of the time.
I could write thousands of words on what I disagree with in how CF teaches movements, what movements they pick (e.g. med-ball cleans) and how they orient them together. I’ve spent a lot of time coaching, observing, studying, and thinking about mechanics of human movement and I don’t think the CF method is ideal.
[spoiler]I’m not going to dissect this topic. We all know there isn’t any fucking programming in CrossFit. The idea is to adapt to be able to do anything and not one thing. The method to do so is to do things randomly. CrossFit is a conditioning program, plain and simple. Glassman and CF have made the claim that anything and everything is just CF, but you can’t put a claim on the realm of training and fitness.
I have a few problems with CrossFit. The conditioning often doesn’t apply an optimal stress and it’s superfluous. It doesn’t have any real element of consistent strength training (and any claim to do so is hypocritical since Gant and I were separately denied our “strength + CF” programs to be included in the CF Journal). It has entirely too much frequency at high intensity and almost always results in injury. It doesn’t follow a logical application of stress to induce adaptation.
This is why it pisses me off when people say that FIT is “just CrossFit without saying the name”. That’s fucking ignorant. FIT represents a systematic way to increase fitness by getting stronger and adding in quality high intensity endurance training (which I sometimes call “conditioning”). Programs in FIT always include a systematic strength program since it’s the fundamental capacity for all athletic endeavors. Have you ever heard the joke that CrossFit makes men look like women, and women hot? It’s because by only conditioning and not strength training, a guy will atrophy away to a lean 160 pounds (on the other hand, when females do something — anything — they’ll look better than their non-training counterparts). CF has no direction or purpose. It purposely isn’t specific. It’s dumping a bag of shit on the ground and saying, “we’ll use this turd today”. FIT teaches you how to get stronger and more conditioned — the definition of being “fit” — with precise, quality conditioning workouts. There’s a huge discrepancy between FIT and CF. It’s the difference between Vader and Luke, Terran and Zerg, taking a shit and skydiving — they aren’t anything alike. [/spoiler]
Is It Really That Bad?
[spoiler]No, but parts of CrossFit just piss us off. I agree with Chris Shugart in this T-Nation article (which is a fair synopsis) he wrote:
But let’s step back from the Internet pissing contests, politics, lawsuits, and internal drama just a moment and look at the big picture. Right now in America, more than 65 percent of the population is overweight or obese. Kids are dying from adult diseases largely brought on by the basic lack of movement. With those dreary facts in mind, it seems silly to get into bitter debates over any single style of exercising. Allegiances and preferences aside, I’m just glad to see people getting into a gym, whether it’s Gold’s, Curves, or a CrossFit gym in some city’s warehouse district.
CrossFit gets people to do something rather than nothing. It also gets the exercising population to do something better than 45 minutes on the elliptical. I honestly feel sad when I see a pudgy girl or guy spending an hour on cardio equipment. If I could only go up to them and tell them what to do, and that they trust me, they would be better off. The guys fucking around with Smith machine shrugs and triceps press downs could legitimately be more muscular if they were open to hear what I have to say. But I don’t approach these people because they won’t understand. They aren’t ready to swallow the red pill. Seeing CF online or in their gym may spark their interest to the point of trying it. And CF is much better than their alternative. That’s part of the reason why I don’t actively hate on CF; cause it could be worse. They could be doing [/spoiler]
Impact of CrossFit
[spoiler]Since CF is so popular, it has had quite the effect on all things training and fitness. Ten years ago you couldn’t find many gyms with bumper plates to do the Olympic lifts. The same goes, to a lesser extent, for quality racks, iron plates, and chalk to get stronger with. CF has introduced lifting to thousands of more people, and this is why I will never say “I hate CrossFit”. It would appear that statement is self serving given that my website benefits from lifters who used to (or still) dabble with CF, but I genuinely am pleased that a greater population regularly lifts weights. To me, the epitome of fitness, health, and longevity is to consistently “exercise” (which means lift weights and do conditioning) and eat healthy, and CF helps instill that mindset more than ACSM, ACE, or even the NSCA has ever done.
CF has and will continue to create a subtle shift in the fitness paradigm. It has had an effect on my development and programming as well as the rest of the industry. High intensity conditioning has always been done, but now it’s becoming more mainstream. Kettlebells have exploded into the fitness scene even though most ‘fitness experts’ are still doing stupid shit with them. All in all, the reverberations from CF will only enhance the realm of fitness. Dr. Kilgore and I did some case studies with CF style workouts (in the confines of my programming) and how it relates to oxygen saturation in the blood. CF may push researchers to more thoroughly test the realm of intensity conditioning in a field where low intensity has reigned supreme (check out the endurance chapter in FIT if you would like to know more).
CF has had a huge influence on lifting. It is a gateway for raw powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. I’ve made many friends who come from a CF background at various power meets. And weightlifting clearly has seen a boom of interest with the development of CF. At worst we have a greater fan population that can appreciate the difficulty in doing the lifts when watching national or international meets. At best we have a host of new lifters that will compete in a meet, and a large portion of those will stick with it. CF is the best thing to happen to weightlifting in the USA since weightlifting was in the USA. Everyone clearly understands that CF hasn’t built big numbers in powerlifting or weightlifting, yet it filters people into these sports. In order to get decent at either barbell sport, you have to specifically train for them, but CF teaches these movements to men and women who would never have attempted them otherwise. CF benefits the realm of lifting significantly. That puts it ahead of any other fitness organization in my book. [/spoiler]
[spoiler]I’ve been to a lot of CrossFit gyms. Between travelling on my own, barbell seminars with Rip, and conducting my own workshops around the world, I’ve seen quite a few of them. Some gyms stand out better than others. CrossFit Monterey and CrossFit Amarillo have very good strength and conditioning programs (and there are plenty of others). CrossFit Front Range in Denver has a training hall that many weightlifting gyms would love to have. But here’s the thing: even the gyms that don’t have good strength programs ALWAYS have fantastic people. Despite the bad rap that CF gets on the internet (much of it well deserved), when you talk to a person face to face, they are always really kind and genuine people. It’s not uncommon to walk into a CF gym and everyone in the room comes up to you and shakes your hand to say hello. That’s just how it is.
People in CF are willing to help each other out. One recent example is that I called up Adam at Panhandle CrossFit and asked if I could do a shit-ton of clean and jerks in his gym. While streaming it on the internet. In short shorts. What a weird-ass request, but he let me come in and act like I was at home. You just won’t get that in most communities.
People involved in CF are also willing to learn. This is my favorite part about the community. Despite criticisms of HQ and not being open to anything new, people who do CF always want to know more and soak up information. As someone who prides himself on coaching and teaching, I really appreciate a room full of eager students who genuinely want to expand their knowledge. I realize it’s easy to disagree with CF’s methodology or way of doing things, but the people are always great. Yes, you’ll run into the internet nut-ball who will mercilessly argue about everything and anything, but the average CFer is usually going to be a good person. [/spoiler]
[spoiler]There are good and bad qualities of CrossFit. Some of you will never get to see the good parts but benefit from the outward ripples (this website is an example). I’ve talked about various people and conceded that they act in ways that I don’t agree with, but for the most part, they aren’t that bad in person. I look at CF for what it is: a conditioning program with a huge community. And let me put it out there so it’s clear: I don’t mind CF. I enjoy how they get made fun of, but I also enjoy making fun of Brent or my brother. CF can piss people off, but it also benefits a lot of people. It’s a nice gateway into other forms of training and the people are always great. [/spoiler]
CrossFit is goofy and does some things wrong, but it has some redeeming qualities. I have a unique experience with it that leads me to think about all of this differently than the person who just sees “softball throws for distance” and “we are elite” kind of stuff online. Lots of the gyms are very good. Overall, it could be worse: everyone could be using ellipticals.
Feel free to ask any questions you want. Read the “Introduction” section to see my experience with CF (it includes having the Level II certification).