CrossFit Is Not Going Anywhere: A Brief History
In 2010 I was working at a small business called “The Best Place To Work” (TBBW) in the town of Bismarck, North Dakota. TBBW had been around since 1984 and it’s owner, John Hargrove, was my boss. One day, while I was out with some co-workers, John came into my office and asked if I wanted to join him in opening up a new CrossFit affiliate. At the time I didn’t really have any interest in CrossFit because it seemed like just another group of people doing exercise routines for their own benefit.
But after talking with John, I decided to give it a try.
I joined the local gym called “The Beast.” After a few months, I noticed that the workouts were much different than anything else I’d ever seen. They weren’t just weight training exercises either; they included gymnastics and other strength-based movements. There was no equipment required – you could do all your workout in the comfort of your own home!
It wasn’t long before I started getting calls from people wanting to get involved with CrossFit. So I opened up a second location called “The Beast 2” and started to teach people what I learned from “The Beast.” I kept working full-time at TBBW and spent my weekends teaching CrossFit classes. In May of 2011, I was offered an opportunity to move to Washington, D.C., and work in the office there.
I needed to make a decision so I asked John Hargrove for some advice since he had taught me so much about CrossFit. John encouraged me to move and follow my dreams. So I sold off my location and everything was going well until I got a call from John in late 2011.
John told me that he’d been diagnosed with kidney cancer and it had already spread to his lungs. The doctors didn’t give him long to live. After speaking with him on the phone for an hour, I learned he still wanted me to take over as owner of “The Beast.” I didn’t think I could handle it because I still had a lot of anxiety about the business side of CrossFit and now this new stress of owning the gym.
I was only there for a year, but it was one of the most challenging times in my life.
John passed away two weeks later but not before he left me with all his advice, like “don’t be cheap.” I still own “The Beast” today and it’s grown to be one of the largest CrossFit affiliates in the United States. I’ve been able to hire a great staff that helps oversee everything. Now I’m more focused on spreading CrossFit by helping coach as well as blogging and doing online training courses.
There are many others that have helped develop what we now know as CrossFit today, but I don’t like to take all the credit since I had a lot of help along the way.
Now that you know how I got started with CrossFit, let’s get to the good stuff…
The Top Ten Myths Of CrossFit
I often see a lot of misconceptions about CrossFit on the internet. Some people think it’s constantly changing with new workouts every day. Others think it’s only for elite athletes trying to become even better. Some people even think it can kill you!
Yes, it’s time to set the record straight and debunk the top ten myths of CrossFit.
CrossFit Myth #1: It changes every day.
Part of this confusion comes from the name itself. When people hear “CrossFit,” they think of something that focuses on a “variety of fitness.” While this is true, it isn’t as varied as people think. For the most part, the same general workouts are used over and over again.
The main reason for this is because it’s not intended to be a primary form of training for anyone. It’s a tool used to increase your fitness and then you specialize in a sport later on.
There are three main types of CrossFit workouts and they’re all based on fitness or skill. The first one is cardio-conditioning which focuses on anything purely geared towards improving your cardio-respiratory system and your ability to use it under varying conditions. The second is Olympic Weightlifting which focuses on improving your power, speed, strength, and coordination through the use of the Olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk or snatch. The third is specialty work which includes gymnastics (body weight movements like handstand walks or push-ups), kettlebells (swinging a kettlebell around), running (for long distances), or rowing (with a Concept2 ergometer).
A CrossFit workout will consist of a mixture of any of the above. You’ll often see a CrossFit workout named after a person (like “Polly”) which usually means it’s an olympic lifting day, another one will be named after a city like “Amsterdam” which means it’s a running/rowing day, and other days will be named after a movement like “Thruster” which is a type of Olympic lifting. Most CrossFitters have at least a few days each week which are called “strength” or “rest” days. These are the days where you go in and lift, but not to the extent that you normally do.
If you’re new to CrossFit, your coach will design a starter program for you to follow for at least the first month. The program will slowly introduce you to the above modalities and how they’re typically incorporated in a CrossFit workout. After that, you’ll constantly see the same types of workouts with more frequency as your body adapts and is able to do more work.
CrossFit Myth #2: All CrossFitters are Competitive Olympic Weightlifters
While it’s true that there is a large population of CrossFitters who do Olympic weightlifting, there are many who don’t. Most CrossFitters in fact have never even picked up a barbell in their life.
CrossFitters who don’t Olympic weightlift tend to do a lot of running, rowing, and plyometrics (jumping). CrossFitters who actually Olympic lift usually stick to the basics in terms of supplemental work. Most of them will row or run, and some may throw in bodyweight exercises like push-ups and dips on occasion.
CrossFit is a big tent and there are many, varied interests and goals of its members. One thing most of them share though is a distaste for long distance running which has become so popular in the “regular fitness” world. CrossFitters tend to run intervals or do circuits for conditioning since they find endurance cardio to not be as beneficial in real life scenarios as something that mimics an aggressive sprint.
CrossFit Myth #3: CrossFit Makes You Weak
I’ve trained at several regular gyms in the past and seen their members. While there are a handful of people who go there with good form, the majority of them don’t have great posture or utilize their core. In addition, many of them are walking around barely able to lift a gallon of milk.
This type of training only reinforces poor movement patterns and weak muscles. CrossFit trains you to lift properly, and often. It also trains your body to be strong and explosive.
Shouldn’t this be what we’re striving for anyways?
I’d rather be able to do fifty push-ups in a row, then be able to squat double my bodyweight.
CrossFit doesn’t make anyone weak, it makes you stronger!
CrossFit Myth #4: CrossFit Makes You Stupid
You’ll often hear the terms “overuse injury” and “Rhabdo” thrown around when people are bashing CrossFit. I’m not a doctor, but I believe these are extremely rare circumstances brought on by extreme negligence or disregard for proper form on the exerciser’s part.
The reality is, any exercise can cause these types of injuries. While proper programming and scaling is encouraged in CrossFit (as it should be), you’re always going to have people who push themselves too far.
Don’t blame CrossFit, blame the idiots who don’t know when to listen to their bodies. Blaming CrossFit is like blaming basketball because you tore your ACL playing it in high school.
CrossFit Myth #5: You Need to Do Extra Massage and Mobility Work Because of the High Number of Reps You Do
This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, CrossFitters usually need less extra work on their soft tissue than people who are in regular gyms.
The majority of CrossFitters in fact do very little extra work on their soft tissue. Many will do some extra work after a really hard week or if they feel some particular tightness or pain, but it’s not a regular thing.
CrossFitters tend to stick to fairly basic barbell exercises in which they squat, hinge, carry, and sometimes lunge. These are the best types of exercises to increase strength and muscle mass after all.
Do these exercises properly and your muscles will thank you. They’ll also grow stronger in the process. There’s no need to roll around on a foam roller or do other silly stuff you see people doing in regular gyms.
Do those exercises wrong, however, and you’ll be dealing with pain or immobility which is why proper coaching is important when doing these in the first place.
CrossFit and Diet
CrossFit Myth #1: CrossFit Doesn’t Have Nutrition Advice
One of the greatest myths about CrossFit is that it doesn’t provide nutritional advice or guidelines beyond “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.” While this is a pretty accurate description of a CrossFitter’s diet, it would be a mistake to assume that CrossFit doesn’t have advice on what to eat.
There are two websites that are commonly known as the main source of information for CrossFitters on nutrition. The first is Mark’s Daily Apple, which is actually the website of a one Mark Sisson, a retired distance runner and CrossFitter. The second is the website of CrossFit Endurance coach Ben Greenfield, which while it doesn’t focus on nutrition, does provide a lot of information on health and fitness outside of just CrossFit.
Both of these coaches have some pretty sound advice when it comes to nutrition (as well as exercise). An example would be Mark Sisson’s views on fruit. While he allows some in his diet, he realizes that most people eat too much of it and suggests you limit your intake. This is in line with the recommendations of most health and nutrition-oriented organizations that you should eat mostly vegetables, some fruit, and even then only consume the low-sugar or low-GI types.
If CrossFit believes that all sugar is evil and should be avoided at all costs, why does it allow squash and yams in its main food pyramid?
Because the main point of the CrossFit diet, and really the CrossFit program in general, is to help you be as fit and healthy as you can be. It’s not a diet to help you lose weight or something along those lines. There are plenty of other programs out there that deal with those issues should you choose to go down that path. CrossFit wants to make your body efficient and strong from the inside out. The main food pyramid provides guidelines on how to do this without getting fat in the process.
CrossFit Myth #2: CrossFit is Not Sustainable
Another myth about the CrossFit program is that it’s not sustainable.
It’s true that some of what you do in the program may not be something you can keep up for your entire life, but then again since when has anyone in CrossFit been doing that?
The people who do that are the ones you see in the gym forever and ever without any drastic change to their physique or strength.
The main point of CrossFit is to do a bunch of different things in succession and at a high intensity. As long as you’re doing that, you’ll be okay. It’s only when people start trying to do all the workouts everyday, several hours a day that they run into serious issues. The same could be said for any program out there though so this isn’t really a CrossFit-specific problem.
So if you can keep up the intensity of the workouts and only do them 3-4 times a week, you should be fine. Just because it says to do something 5 or 6 days a week doesn’t mean you have to. And contrary to popular belief, doing partial squats or only doing half of the workout every other day isn’t going to make you weaker either. It’s only when you start becoming so fatigued that you can’t complete a single rep that you’re going to have issues.
So if you can keep the intensity high while still only doing the workouts 3-4 times a week, there is no reason why you shouldn’t keep making progress for quite some time.
CrossFit is Not for Everyone
This might be the most important myth of all to bust. Some people will just not do well in CrossFit no matter what. This isn’t even a judgment on who they are as a person, it’s just a matter of physiology. Different people are built differently, and some people can power through the pain of doing high-rep Olympic lifting or running more than your average person can.
Not everyone is as naturally gifted at CrossFit as others, but everyone can get stronger, faster, and healthier from doing it.
Just because something isn’t for everyone doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. If everyone was good at basketball, it would cease to be a great sport. Some people are just naturally gifted at it, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s the same with any physical activity.
Not everyone can be an elite CrossFitter, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to benefit from the program in some way. You don’t have to be able to run a sub 4-minute mile to benefit from running. You just need to run to the best of your ability.
Just because you’re not an elite CrossFitter doesn’t mean you can’t still be in better shape than you were before you started. And that’s what it’s all about – getting in better shape and becoming a fitter version of yourself, one workout at a time.
The Bottom Line
So there you have it: CrossFit myths busted. CrossFit is not dangerous, not for everyone, and certainly not a fad. Now go forth, and start training hard.
Photos provided by David Larson and CrossFit LA.
Sources & references used in this article:
You Are Not Normal-Here’s Why by C Marker – breakingmuscle.com
Your Diet Is Not Normal: Here’s Why by C Marker – breakingmuscle.com
Calorie Restriction for Endurance Athletes: Why It’s Not Always A Good Idea by G Turner, ES Triathlon – breakingmuscle.com
Neoliberalism and the communicative labor of CrossFit by EP James, R Gill – Communication & Sport, 2018 – journals.sagepub.com
Eating to Recover: How and What to Eat Post Workout by JC Herz – 2015 – Harmony
The World of CrossFit by B Sly – 2014 – breakingmuscle.com