Devlin Brown at the watercooler: Is CrossFit a good fit for me?
Q: I go to a commercial gym three times a week but I feel like I am at a dead-end with my training? Should I take up something like CrossFit to finally see results?
A: How do you know someone does CrossFit? They tell you. Much like the Apple iCult, this cult is made up of devout followers who hunt in packs and say things such as, “lift heavy and eat bacon”. They live in a box, eat like cavemen, only wear Reebok and their workouts are called WODs (workout of the day).
If you want to kip, squat ATG and dream of doing a Filthy Fifty at HQ, then CrossFit is right for you.
Much to the horror of new CrossFitters, the cult did not invent the burpee, box jump or ATG (ass-to-grass) squats. Neither did they invent the deadlift, overhead press or clean-and-jerk. What it did do, though, with the help of founder Greg Glassman, is make the exercises cool.
CrossFit is a branded fitness regimen, and once an affiliate has completed the necessary steps and paid the licence fees, he or she can open a box (gym).
Do research into the knowledge, skills and experience of the trainer or box owner, in the same way you should do your due diligence on any new coach or gymDevlin Brown
One of the inherent risks of partaking in high-intensity, sometimes complicated exercise at near-capacity, often with heavy loads, is injury. This is why seeking out a reputable box with trainers who know movement patterns and how to progress trainees is very important. Do research into the knowledge, skills and experience of the trainer or box owner, in the same way you should do your due diligence on any new coach or gym.
You’re thinking of joining to gain something and lose something. You presumably want to gain fitness and strength, and you probably want to lose fat — not a limb.
After a year of CrossFit, during which he pressed until the cows came home, a young man I recently met realised his shoulders were more fragile than a first-year student attending a Thursday morning lecture. To save his wrecked and aching shoulders, he decided to switch to bodybuilding — may the spirit in the sky guide his lost soul.
The point is, any training that is not done properly can hurt you. You simply have to become mobile and have your movement patterns assessed. You must be taught the skills of difficult lifts, such as any of the Olympic lifting variations, and your periodisation should take many things into account, not least your age, gender, fitness and strength level and life context. Seek out a trainer who prioritises this.
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh my, the Water Cooler is one of those functional training resources where everything must mimic ‘real-life’ activities”, be it a push, a pull, a carry, a hip hinge or a quad-dominant movement. While we most certainly do adhere to the fundamentals of functional training, at the Water Cooler we are rather anticult. Everything doesn’t have to be prehab, rehab, three-hab and four-hab.
Some years ago, when writing about his controversial low-carb, high-fat eating plan that another cult calls Banting, I asked Tim Noakes whether you should run away when you encounter a person that’s dogmatic. He retorted: you can be dogmatic if you are right.
The difficulty in an exercise context is it is near-impossible to know who is right. I may unleash the CrossFit army’s wrath by informing you that Rich Froning and Tia-Clair Toomey did not develop their superhuman fitness, strength and physiques by belting out WODs at the local box. These are elite athletes.
CrossFit is superior to directionless appearances at your local treadmill and bench-press rack if you are physically able to exercise at the required intensity, are coached properly to perform the exercises and monitored, especially when fatigued, and have a clean bill of health.
However, if you have very specific fitness or physique goals, there are better ways to achieve them than “just” attending a CrossFit box. Specialised coaches will no doubt be able to tailor your own training and progress, using aspects of many different fitness and strength disciplines, including high-intensity, interval training and metabolic conditioning so popular in CrossFit boxes.
Whenever I’ve profiled a CrossFit box or athlete (yes, they compete against each other), the thing that stood out was the strong sense of community. So, if you find a community of like-minded people who genuinely care about your wellbeing and are coached properly, and you want to join, then go ahead and have fun.
The bigger challenge, of course, would be mastering the art of not sharing your WOD on Facebook.