CrossFit. What’s it all about?

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First Posted: 12/2/2014

CrossFit is high intensity interval training and enthusiasts are claiming that it forges a broad, general and inclusive fitness regimen. It is re-defining fitness as increased work capacity across time and model domains.

But what does that mean? What are the pros of increasing the ability to do real work? What are the cons of “the sport of fitness?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults are obese. The CDC’s website states that behavior and environment play a large role in obesity. If someone is surrounded by others wanting better for themselves then the individual will also want better. This community aspect of wanting to do better is a core fundamental of CrossFit.

“There is a sense of community that draws people to it,” Brennan Morton, owner of NEPA CrossFit, said. “When you go to a gym, you put you headphones in and are inherently alone. There is no one pushing you or cheering you on. CrossFit is class based, meaning everyone suffers together. People look forward to seeing each other, it motivates them. It is as much social as it is a workout.”

CrossFit is not a franchise and every gym is owned and operated independently. NEPA CrossFit’s coaches are trained and certified. All five of NEPA CrossFit’s coaches are full time trainers.

This “group concept,” where it is largely the same group of people exercising together, has the highest adherence rates for physical activity. It holds people accountable while motivating. It creates a healthy addiction. CrossFit defines itself as optimizing fitness by performing varied functional movements at high intensity levels. The official CrossFit website states that the community aspect spontaneously arises when people do the workouts together. The communal aspect of CrossFit is a key component of why it’s so effective.

Another component that helps CrossFit stay at the top of the exercise pyramid is its competitive component. Competing against oneself, or the clock, can increase performance.

“It always motivates someone to have them accomplish a goal,” said Dr. Jan Kretzschmar and director of exercise science at King’s College. “If the competition gets people up and moving, then something is working.”

Kretzschmar said he is happy that people are being active with CrossFit but he does have some concerns about the workout’s approach.

“The problems come with the professional standards of the sport,” Kretzschmar said. “No one is looking to see if the trainer is trained properly or just trained in a weekend certification course. There are no checks and balances.”

Morton agrees and said the difference between good and bad instructors is where the pros and cons of CrossFit diverge. “The biggest thing that irks me about people’s conception of CrossFit, is that some of the cons are true,” Morton said. “The “boxes” (a CrossFit gym) that have trainers with no certification and training are what embarrasses those that take their job seriously. These boxes are where injuries occur and stereotypes are given.”

Injury is another aspect associated with CrossFit. Morton’s gym has a low percentage of injury because safety is a priority to the trainers, he said. They know the difference between pushing veterans of CrossFit and newcomers.

Dr. David Ross, a sports medicine physician from the Geisinger Orthopaedic Institute said most injuries he sees affiliated with CrossFit are from overuse.

“The plyometric training as well as the ballistic movements predispose people to overuse of the body. This can lead to tendinitis and other problems,” he said. “There is a culture with CrossFit and it gets dangerous when people get so involved and so intense.”

Kretzschmar said he sees a negative approach in the way some CrossFit trainers view the sport. He said there doesn’t seem to be any humbleness in their beliefs.

“Fitness can be many different things,” he said. “I just don’t see CrossFit admitting that other ways can work as well. It always seems like it is their way or the highway.”

However, if someone is getting off the couch and being active, they are exercising more than 96 percent of Americans, according to the CDC. That has to count for something.

If CrossFit is increasing the number of active people out there, then can’t they brag with bravado as much as they want?