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August 2013

“Is CrossFit Stupid?” Perpetually “getting in shape” by never defining what ‘in-shape’ is.

Is CrossFit stupid?

I won’t be so general as to answer this question with a direct positive or negative. But one thing I’ll say without reservation: Many online debates I see on message boards about whether CrossFit is stupid are really stupid. I’ve never seen so much tit-for-tat argument that’s devoid of premises on which to base logical reasoning. For Clean and Jerkexample, I’ll read a comment by an anti-CrossFitter who will assert that CrossFit is stupid because its adherents perform sloppy pull-ups. Then I’ll see a counter to this by a ‘CrossFitter’ who claims that everyone he knows who knocks CrossFit simply “got his ass kicked by it”… and so is now, talking smack. On and on it goes like this.

First off, here’s a question for nearly everyone: By what logical thinking is it that people believe the more difficult exercise is – the more effective it is?

And then, for the CrossFitters who’ve adopted this faulty notion: Unless a CrossFit “quitter” claims so, what makes you think you can assume “difficulty” as the reason for their dropping out? Isn’t that just an easy cause-and-effect assumption on your part in order to defend your otherwise shaky beliefs about your beloved workout program? Maybe the CrossFit drop-out actually quit because he/she rationally analyzed the question “is CrossFit stupid” and wound up at an answer that you would not like.

With that, I’m willing to jump right into the “is CrossFit stupid” question.

 

“Is CrossFit Stupid?” Not if You’re Clueless

I’ve got a work associate who has a dry sense of humor. This guy does muscle building workouts, so we occasionally exchange words on that mutual interest. Recently, I casually mentioned the topic of CrossFit to him and he turned to me with a quizzical expression and asked…

“Is that the program where people throw shit around in the gym to try to get in shape?”

I laughed with immediate recognition of his observational definition.

“…That’s what it looks like to me”, he continued. “It looks like they throw stuff around, make a lot of noise, and convince themselves they’re getting in shape.”

This seemed a deserving jab at techniques that are typically practiced in CrossFit workouts. It’s funny, but still misses the broader questions:

What will CrossFit workouts do other than get you better at doing CrossFit workouts?

…And…

Ad_testosteroneIf you get better at doing CrossFit workouts, does that mean you’re in good shape?

To begin answering those questions, let me build a relatable context. Anybody who wants to deem himself a workout expert can do so with ease. That’s why YouTube is filled to the brim with shirtless guys giving workout advice. Anyone can stack up a selection of random exercises and tell willing listeners that it will help “get them in shape.” The self-proclaimed expert can even make up some exercises of his or her own. Since the non-working-out public thinks they have no way of discerning what makes sense and what doesn’t; it all appears plausible when it’s coming from an “expert” who has what they consider “a nice body.”

At this point, the ‘desperate-to-get-in-shape’ newbie has something to try. It could be a routine as random and nonsensical as doing fifty kettlebell swings, thirty clean-and-jerks, twenty lunges, fifteen burppies, and topping it all off with  a 100 yard dash. The new person tries this and becomes tired. He or she is sore the next day. It’s obvious to this person that the workout was “difficult.” Both the difficulty and fatigue become evidence for that individual that this routine could get them into shape.  CrossFit Exercise

If the otherwise sedentary person then performs this workout (or something similar) three or four times a week, he or she will begin to burn additional calories. Tightness will start being felt in longtime un-worked muscles. The combination of muscle tightness, soreness, and some fat falling off will lead to a generalized conclusion – a conclusion to which they could have arrived had they hand-picked some exercises from their high school PE classes:

“Hey… this workout really works. And if you don’t think so… just try it. It’s HARD.”

This appears to be what CrossFit is doing on a massive scale. It’s taken randomized, nonsensical workout techniques/sequences and made them marketable through branding and mystique. But that mystique is only as effective as people’s willingness to trade critical thinking for the relative cognitive laziness provided by ambiguity.

So is CrossFit stupid?

It’s probably difficult to make such a judgment for those clueless enough to not realize there’s something other than fatigue and soreness, created by its workouts, by which to make it. But that’s not you and me.

 

‘Is CrossFit Stupid?’ It Depends on Your Goals

I’ll say this straight up: If you want to enter the CrossFit Games, then doing CrossFit workouts is NOT stupid.

In contrast: If you want to build a muscular, lean, balanced, and V-shaped body, then CrossFit workouts are a stupid choice.

CrossFIt marketers are smart to have created a competition around their vaguely defined fitness fad. Even smarter is their decision to make each competition remain a mystery to competitors until the games are underway. By doing this, they’ve ensured there will always be a base of CrossFit members that are faithful to the workouts because they want to stand a chance-in-hell of winning the games. By mixing up the competitive evolutions, adding new ones when possible, and keeping it unrevealed to the competitors, those entering these games have no choice but to work hard at every possible modality of “fitness.”

This means the answer to the question “is CrossFit stupid” is a definite “no” if you want enter and win the CrossFit Games.

But if you’re one of those who’ve joined CrossFit to “get a nice body” and it’s not happening, I’ll tell you why: CrossFit workouts are a stupid choice for those with the goal of physique improvement based on muscle development. Ad_site_supplements

The reason is that optimal body shape augmentation requires balanced hypertrophy of muscles. Not only are CrossFit’s extremely varied, excessively multi-jointed-movement workouts unsuited for this, they’re counterproductive to it. CrossFIt workouts rarely concentrate enough myofibrillar fatigue into each muscle so as to create stimulation at the point of maximum contraction of each body part’s tissue. In addition, CrossFIt workouts don’t provide optimal balance between myofibrillar and mitochondrial breakdown/stimulation. To top it off, the random selection and scheduling of the workouts doesn’t even come close to providing the precise intermittency of muscle tissue breakdown/recuperation-compensation that’s needed to build muscular shape to the body.

“But….” I can already hear the protests. “I know somebody who’s doing CrossFit and they say they’ve never been in such good shape and they’ve built some muscle and…”

Stop! Go back up to the ‘Not if you’re Clueless’ section and read the last two or three paragraphs. Basically, if someone’s been long-term sedentary and suddenly begins doing any type of resistance exercise three or four days a week, they’ll probably lose fat and they will experience tightening muscles.

“But… but… I’ve seen CrossFit people who have really buff, nice looking bodies”

Hey… I knew that one was coming. Does it ever occur to those observing this that there are a lot of former bodybuilders who’ve decided to go into the CrossFit Games? Even more misleading is the probability that many of them are former steroid-built bodybuilders.  They’ve got a perfect new venue for showing off their bodies – a sun-drenched arena surrounded by bleachers filled with a bigger audience than was ever mustered by a bodybuilding show.

 

CrossFit WOD
'CrossFit absurdity': During a WOD, why would the exercise depicted above be chosen over any of a few dozen others that could have been? Do CrossFit adherents really believe someone figured all this out with logic and reason? Do the franchisees believe that?

 

Bottom line: Deciding whether to join CrossFit should be considered heavily with your real body improvement goals in mind. And if you’re not doing it for the CrossFit Games, then be prepared for the likelihood that you’ll just get good at making noise by “throwing stuff around.”

But look on the bright side: You’ll steadily get better at throwing stuff around and eventually be able to do it with heavier stuff. This will allow you to make even more noise than anyone else when you’re throwing that crap around. And you can rationalize that it’s all building “functional fitness” instead of… ah, that other kind (whatever THAT is).

 

“Is CrossFIt Stupid”… or are Movement and Measurement a Good Thing?

In delving into the question ‘is CrossFit stupid’, can I really reserve only criticism for a program that brings so many previously sedentary folk into the fitness realm?

Of course not; I have to give CrossFit its due for doing exactly that. It’s generated enough buzz to create interest and excitement among tens of thousands of formerly inactive individuals. Whether it’s people who are completely new to working out or those whose dormant workout habits have been reawakened, the result is positive. It’s a good thing.

The other praise I have to give CrossFit is for its insistence on measurement. I love that they teach this. Even if their workouts are haphazardly random sequences of nonsense, the practice of measuring and scoring everything in a workout gets a huge thumbs-up from me. “Yay CrossFit”…for that one.

So, for all you disillusioned CrossFitters who joined with the idea of getting an eye-catching body and have been disappointed on that note, here’s what I suggest. Take the ‘stickler for measurement’ mentality of CrossFit and couple it with some smart muscle building principles. Add in some sensible eating habits for bodybuilding and you’ll be well on your way to building a V-shaped body.

Is CrossFit stupid?

It’s a bad choice if strength AND a visually fit body is what you’re seeking.

For more reading on CrossFit, you can also check out my article titled ‘Does CrossFit Work