A few weeks ago I was talking to the good folks at Spotter Up about military fitness and the conversation wandered into typical territory. That subject being the lost souls of the military and special operations wannabes and the service members who slipped physically for a while before discovering his new religion. And like the kids dressed all in black except for the white shirt knocking on your door, they appear and ask, “What do you think about CrossFit?”
At this point you only have a few options and you never quite know who you’re dealing with. It could be:
- An “askhole.” An askhole is a person who (1) always wants free consulting, coaching or advice (2) when they don’t have an established relationship with you, (3) when there’s clearly nothing in it for you, and (4) never follows through on it. He will pepper you with stupid questions for the next three hours and always has some kind of BS story about how they’re gonna do this or that. Usually this type of person really wants you to know he’s going to go to Special Forces and is thinking of doing CrossFit and everything is already in the bag despite the fact that he doesn’t train much if at all for anything. It will take you weeks to get over the fact that you will never get those hours of your life back and usually they will keep coming back.
- A CrossFitter! If you say you like CrossFit they will immediately kidnap you and insist that you are best buddies and you can spend every hour of every day talking about your favorite WOD and hating the haters. If you say you don’t like it, this person suddenly transforms into a peasant from the movie Monty Python’s Holy Grail exclaiming, “We have found a witch!” They then demand to know why you do not worship at the church of CrossFit. Nothing you say matters because you are a heretic who must die and they then devote weeks to cyberbullying you and alerting the CrossFit community that they have found an infidel to be burned at the stake. All the while there will be proclamations about how elite CrossFit is while beating social justice warriors and the paid protest crowds of the Middle East at their own game of who can be the bigger victim of imaginary offenses. Somewhere in the melee, CrossFit will attempt to strip your right to free speech by threatening to sue you. Eventually the mob will go away but there will forever be spies assigned to watch you in case you express an opinion again. You will be psychologically scarred and they want you to be.
- A former CrossFitter. This type asks the question with downcast eyes and when you declare your dislike, his face brightens and you discover a guy who was beaten down by CrossFit, injured, harassed, tossed out, etc. He is looking for a safe place away from the cyberbullying and pompous attitudes to put himself back together and get healthy and fit again. These are usually very good people and should be treated well. They bear permanent psychological scars from their experience and they just want to be happy again. It is for these poor souls that I am writing this article because they deserve some clarity.
Gibberish and Fallacy
We live in a curious time and it recently dawned on me that CrossFit represents the modern totalitarian doctrine of social justice warrior movement. The story goes something along the lines of this:
- A group of like-minded people make outrageous and ridiculous claims that make little sense or are clearly flights of fanciful delusions while acting out socially to drive home the point that they are different.
- When you disagree with their ill-conceived ideas and reject their attempts to impose them on you, rather than engage in well-reasoned discourse or offering proofs of claims, they erupt into hysterics, bullying, obstruction, harassment, threats and wild accusations.
- Knowing that there are few if any consequences for this behavior they are emboldened when the real victim walks away after absorbing more insanity than they can handle. The aforementioned group chalks this up as a victory and marches on, the stage set for them to do it all over again.
These are not the only similarities. CrossFit, like the modern SJW has mastered the art of gibberish. Gibberish by definition is unintelligible, meaningless, pretentious or needlessly obscure language. You know, when someone is clearly trying to baffle you with buffoonery. CrossFit’s “What is CrossFit” web page features 381 words of pure gibberish. There are possibly two coherent sentences in the whole thing that actually mean what they say or are truthful. The rest don’t mean anything because they are full of words that don’t belong there or terms they simply made up. For example, they state that:
“Glassman, CrossFit’s Founder and CEO, was the first person in history to define fitness in a meaningful, measurable way: increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.”
This is completely false and completely delusional and the gibberish games are about to begin.
- Work capacity refers to the general ability of the body as a machine to produce work of different intensity and duration using the appropriate energy systems of the body.
- Time domain refers to variation of the amplitude of a signal with time. It’s used in the electronics and communications industries.
- There is no such thing as a modal domain. It doesn’t exist. It’s a non-thing. In fact, the words “modal” and all variations have nothing to do with the subject and have no place at all in this context.
Stated literally this definition would be:
Increased ability to perform work across broad variation of the amplitude of a signal with time and a made up non-existent term.
CrossFit claims that time domain refers to the duration of the event and modal domain refers to “all variety of activity”, which they don’t in any known language. Even if those were the actual definitions of those words and terms, it still doesn’t make any sense because the term “work capacity” already accounts for non-specific activity and duration. Therefore, all they have done is prove they don’t understand what work capacity is. They apparently felt the need to repeat parts of the definition of the term they already used by completely redefining a term and making up another one from thin air. This is not meaningful to anyone and it’s absolutely not measurable. They clearly don’t understand exercise terminology at all; in this case work capacity and fitness. And in case you were wondering, fitness does not equal work capacity, thus the statement is false. Two sentences in and we already have a breathtaking assault on common sense and it only gets worse.
According to their website:
“CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.”
There are three key elements to this statement:
- Constantly varied
- Functional movements
- Performed at high intensity
These three elements bring to light some immediate issues.
Constantly varied means the exercise prescription is different for every workout. The problem is that if the exercise selection is constantly varied, functional adaptation is impaired. The purpose of physical training is to improve work capacity (anatomical & physiological adaptation) and preparedness. Preparedness is fitness minus the effects of impedance (fatigue, emotion, etc.) In order to develop work capacity and fitness and mitigate fatigue there is a certain amount of consistency required (functional specialization). That is why constant variation programs have never been validated in the development of competitive athletes in any sport at any level. They don’t work for that purpose no matter how loudly CrossFit screams about it. Consider that athletes will use any means necessary to include illegal drugs to win and they still won’t touch constant variation programming. It’s been tried and found to be inferior to all other methods
The term ‘functional movement’ is both important and a junk term used by the fitness industry because it can be twisted to mean anything. Classically, for a movement to be considered “functional”, you must be able to define exactly what it is functional for. For example, quarter-depth squats could be considered functional for a tennis player but not a sprinter because of the specificity of the joint angles and range of motion used in each sport. Thus, functionality is specific to the person, sport, position or task.
CrossFit doesn’t bother with this. Instead they try to scoop up a wide number of sports and all of humanity with this statement:
“All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. These are the core movements of life.”
This statement is more gibberish and implies that a phantom person has subjectively decided what movements and aspects of certain sports are best for everyone with no regard to individual requirements or goals. This is absurd and is followed by another absurd statement that states that these movements are the core movements of life. Yet these movements are never named and remain shrouded in mystery. Presumably, if they appear on a workout they must qualify according to the phantom behind the curtain. This is fallacy.
With the functional movement bit, CrossFit once again steps into territory they have not bothered to research. Technically, ALL training is functional which eliminates the need for the phantom picker of movements. However, for fitness to be developed, functional specialization must occur. Furthermore, functional movement and functional training are synonyms for ‘action specific’, ‘activity specific’ or ‘sport specific’. CrossFit clearly states, “Our specialty is not specializing.” Call me confused! Which is it? CrossFit doesn’t name the movements, so we cannot compare them to the well-established basic and fundamental movement patterns that every physical education teacher uses. We cannot even see if these movements match well-established sport specific skills common in athletics. The inclusion of ‘functional movements’ only serves to illustrate that CrossFit doesn’t understand basic exercise terminology.
Performed at high intensity
The truth is that CrossFit performs little if anything at high intensity. They can’t because you cannot lift high intensity loads for the number of reps they prescribe. The word “intensity” refers to load in the strength and conditioning world. In resistance training, high intensity loads are those closest to your 1 repetition maximum, classically over 80% 1RM. True high intensity training uses a high volume of very heavy loads. In locomotor activity, high intensity refers to Interval work and sprint work which are typically over 80% of your maximum run speed. The same applies to cycling, skiing, swimming, etc.
CrossFit uses predominantly low to moderate loads for moderate to high repetitions performed at the highest speed possible in an attempt to develop power. They do not understand that power does not equal intensity, but this is just another classic example of CrossFit making up definitions for words. If they were technically correct the terminology they are looking for is “rate of perceived exertion” (RPE), not intensity.
What we can conclude from this analysis is that:
‘CrossFit is constant variation of movements that may or may not be functional performed at low to moderate intensity and high rate of perceived exertion.’
That’s pretty interesting and you might wonder, what’s so wrong with that? As we look at that statement, not that much per se. The issues are:
- By being random, functional specialization cannot occur and as such, all of your work isn’t very useful for anything.
- Low to moderate loads will require high reps to obtain training benefits regardless of the exertion level.
- Such a style of training could never be used for sports and athletics because it cannot develop fitness. Physical fitness is defined as the ability to perform a task or activity safely and effectively to a predefined standard. Physical fitness is composed of seven S-factors: strength, stamina, speed, skill, suppleness, structure and spirit. CrossFit literally works against the development of fitness for anything with one exception: CrossFit.
That’s not the end of the world. Let’s pause to recap for a second. So far we have shown that CrossFit has no concept of exercise terminology or sports science and their statements are gibberish and false. In writing this article I did a deeper analysis of their claims and found not a single statement or claim that wasn’t gibberish and/or easily shown to be false. For example, they demonstrated very cleanly that they have no idea what power or intensity are despite the fact they claim those are the keys to their success. They also claim that you can more effectively increase aerobic capacity by only performing anaerobic training despite the fact that not a single endurance athlete on the planet does this. The list just keeps going and going and it even blossoms out into politics with the CEO of CrossFit attacking the American Council on Science and Health for things they are not doing. Despite all of this, there is an underlying idea that, while not acceptable for fitness, sports or performance, seems to have some potential benefit as general exercise. Or is it? Let’s look at their training to learn more.
The WOD Dysfunction
CrossFit posts their Workout of the Day (WOD) on their website. Followers are supposed to go there to get the WOD and execute it at their local CrossFit gym. Examining the weeks it turns out that WODs are not nearly as constantly varied as they claim. There are a lot of patterns that show up very quickly. This casts a long shadow over the constant variation idea. Speaking of patterns, CrossFit trains less than half of the basic human movement patterns per week and that’s a bit of a problem. Of the remaining, some are never trained and some are so rare you may only see them once a year. The WODs all start to look very, very familiar the more you look. So much so that you actually start to get a little bored with it. In fact, patterns emerge that are nearly as predictable as bi’s and tri’s or chest and back. As you go through this and examine it, the facts become clear. CrossFit isn’t cross-training at all. They have their favorite exercises and WODs and what they are doing, while a bit more fun than the average gym, is in some ways more imbalanced than other general exercise programs. It’s definitely constantly varied, but only to a point and in ways that I don’t find useful in any way.
When it comes to the WOD construction, CrossFit Headquarters has definitely backed off on some of their previous insanity with Olympic lifts in recent years. But out in the Affiliate Gyms, the madness continues as I’ve recently seen with my own eyes. So too do the so-called Benchmark and Hero WODs. By the way, these Hero WODs in my eyes are the most disgusting exploitation of men’s lives I have ever seen and I have only pure burning hatred for those who made them and continue to push them. Smoking yourself does not honor anything or anyone and it needs to end immediately. But I digress.
In my mind, CrossFit is on shaky ground before this point, but WOD construction is where they completely come off the rails. As mentioned, they are already incomplete from the movement pattern perspective across the training week, month, quarter and year. Regarding the exercises selected, too many of them fall into the following categories:
- Trainee cannot perform the exercise correctly, let alone for the reps and circuits assigned.
- High skill low rep exercise that should be performed in low fatigue environment assigned high reps in high fatigue environment.
- Impossible rep scheme assigned
- Excessive fatigue environment for even low skill exercises
- Load too heavy for trainee’s skill level
- High exertion volume excessive for recovery ability
- Only training one predominant energy system
WODs come down to being very poorly designed smoke sessions designed to create maximal fatigue as fast as possible. That approach has never yielded superior performance in anything. Despite the submaximal loads, WODs almost always result in muscle failure sooner than later. A good trainer will demand that his trainees scale the load but bad trainers coupled with social pressures all too often result in trainees bowing in and taking on far more than they should.
At the end of the day, CrossFit is nothing more than a poorly constructed cross-training style of general fitness training. Here are the big take away points:
- CrossFit is group or individual based Anaerobic Continuous Circuit Training with completely inappropriate and dysfunctional programming. Continuous circuit training is the least effective and beneficial form of circuit training.
- CrossFit does not adequately develop the core biomotor abilities in all human movement patterns, especially locomotion based movement.
- CrossFit does not adequately develop all human energy systems in those movement patterns.
- CrossFit does not develop fitness across the six human physical traits.
- CrossFit does not develop all seven fitness S-factors for anything.
- CrossFit does not develop athletic performance because it is not specific and the performance levels of the activity they perform is well below what athletes require to be competitive. CrossFit training actually reduces athletic performance. Furthermore, CrossFit training is inadequate to prepare for the CrossFit Games according to CrossFit HQ and their founder.
- CrossFit does not develop military fitness because it develops neither the specific fitness required, not the general performance levels required for optimum performance in combat. It is however, adequate to maintain the low-level of fitness required to pass the annual PT test, though many still struggle. However, that test is not a military fitness test, but rather a measurement of health factors.
- CrossFit does not develop general fitness because it excludes large and significant components of fitness and core human activity.
- CrossFit only makes you better at doing CrossFit if you don’t burn out or get injured from exceeding your abilities.
- If carefully scaled and executed (it rarely is), CrossFit could be a viable alternative to the normal gym scene if you’re not an athlete, soldier or a beginner with flexibility issues. CrossFit is well-known for fat loss because of the compound exercises and high exertion. The fact that the majority of others exclude all forms of jumping, throwing, crawling, climbing, etc. makes them far less fun. However, one cannot be considered to be superior because there is too much variation to account for. CrossFit’s primary appeal is the fun and variety aspect.
- You may not doing CrossFit. So far I have focused primarily on the CrossFit mothership and it has many problems. Now I want to recognize a deep dark secret of CrossFit. There are a large number of trainers out there who own CrossFit gyms and they are not doing CrossFit. This is good and bad. On the bad side, there are a bunch of these people who decided that the stupidity on display in CrossFit’s programming wasn’t bad enough. They have taken it upon themselves to make their own circus of stupidity and frankly, they have given CrossFit a level of negativity it doesn’t fully deserve, especially on the injury side. On the positive side, lots of trainer are simply using the name to drive traffic and prescribing well designed circuit training. The problem is that people are a bit dense and they don’t understand the difference. They know that it says CrossFit on the door and what they did is great or it sucked. If you’re reading this and you do CrossFit, it’s important to know, are you even doing CrossFit? Or are you doing something better or worse?
- CrossFit is inaccessible to many. The huge variety of exercises used requires a literal gym filled with very expensive equipment. That’s one of the reasons the franchise has done so well, because the average person doesn’t have tens of thousands of dollars and the space to build a home CrossFit gym. There have been lots of CrossFit gyms that started in a garage, but it really favors a gym setting.
- CrossFit is not forging elite fitness or creating super soldiers. It can’t even forge a JV girls track athlete.
That leaves with the original question… What do I think about CrossFit? I have a couple closing thoughts.
- I think that I don’t want to have anything to do with a company that embodies the way of the social justice warrior.
- I think that if a company can’t use a dictionary and can’t grasp basic language concepts, there are probably a lot of other concepts they can’t grasp.
- I think that if a company says they are elite, you ought to be able to see them build some elite athletes over the last 15 years but it hasn’t happened.
- I think that a physical training company that denies the tenets of physical training and sports science, loudly declares them irrelevant or nonexistent, and then fails to match JV athletics shouldn’t be given the time of day.
- I think that if you’re a cube dweller who wants to gain some muscle and lose some fat, CrossFit would be more fun than the normal gym grind, though more dangerous.
- I think that for my line of work, they are the worst thing to have ever happened.
- I don’t think, I know, that men trained by me, even by e-mail, outperform CrossFitters and gym rats in training and in combat every single time by an astonishing margin.
Originally published Sept 14, 2016
Images are stock pictures.