Livestrong takes on CrossFit

Posted: October 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

Somehow I missed the month-old post at Livestrong on CrossFit, called “The Fall of Fitness?” As the title indicates, the initial discussion, as well as the pullout quote, would leave the casual reader (in other words, the majority of people who scan the headline and first couple of paragraphs of the story) that CrossFit will hurt you and should be avoided. To be fair, if you read the entire article, it doesn’t actually say that, but there are plenty of studies out there that will tell you that few people will read that far.

The author begins with a dramatic account of an athlete that experiences rhabdo. CrossFit has been doing a lot to increase awareness of the problem, and, yes, it is a very serious problem when it occurs. However, beginning an article with an uncommon scenario (and one not limited to this particular form of fitness training) is going to leave the reader with a mistaken impression of the overall fitness program.

In “Strategic Copy Editing” by John Russial, a classic text on shaping stories on journalism, Russial notes:

Researchers have found that people remember anecdotes and examples better than they remember facts and that the impressions they take from anecdotes can significantly influence their view of the story. Stories should not appear to be taking sides, either by failing to provide one side or by their structure.

The italics are mine. I believe that this article, by beginning with the serious but relatively uncommon experience of Ryan Palmer’s Rhabdo, and the headline, “The Fall of Fitness,” does not fairly represent CrossFit in the way the story is structured. I was rather surprised by that, as the email link I got for the story was entitled “An Inside Look at CrossFit.”

The second anecdote told, after the huge pullout quote which unfortunately likens CrossFit to the Mafia, is a much fairer beginning, as it’s a very common occurrence for people.

A little more than a year ago, I pulled up to a garage one evening ready to get my ass kicked. I wanted to try a CrossFit workout. I’d heard the rumors. I knew what was coming was probably more than I could handle—and that not even my athletic background as a gymnast, weightlifter, running back or point guard would prepare me. So, I ate a light dinner that wouldn’t taste horrible if I ended up hurling it onto my sneakers after overworking myself. And I sucked up my fear.

Not my experience, but I am not your typical CrossFitter. However, this anecdote gives a fairer view of the typical first time CrossFit, and it’s one that some people would say “Oh, cool,” and someone like me would say “Hell, no.”  The rhabdo story is important to include, but to start out with it (and the Mafia quote) misrepresents the overall CrossFit experience (at least in my opinion).

I’m not saying that the article doesn’t have some legitimate criticisms; many of them are things I’ve addressed in this blog. For example, the article makes a great point here:

If most gyms struggle to have their patrons work hard enough, CrossFit gyms struggle on the opposite end of the spectrum. Searching for the words “pain” and “CrossFit” on Twitter yields hundreds of results, nearly every one praising the sting the workout provides. “There’s pushing an athlete to the point of discomfort that is challenging,” says Joe Dowdell, founder and CEO of Peak Performance in New York City. “But then we pull the reigns back. Vomiting is a sign that you’ve hit a point when it’s just too much.”

Again, my take on Pukey the Clown is that he should avoided, and scaling back should not be resisted. The model, in and of itself, is cooperative, but there’s a lot of competitiveness that works against common sense.

Another well-taken point is the following section of the article. Unfortunately, it’s way down the page, and should probably have been brought up earlier to avoid the appearance that the article is going to essentially say “CrossFit will hurt you, bad, man.”

This much is certain: When done correctly, CrossFit is not inherently bad or ineffective. Like other training methodologies before it, CrossFit is a form of high intensity exercise, an efficient model of exercise that has helped many people lose weight while improving strength and endurance. But due to its extensive popularity, many CrossFit gyms have diluted the system. Just as some first-time CrossFit athletes rush into overdoing exercises in a fatigued state and, thus, falter in form, CrossFit coaches and affiliates are rushing into setting up CrossFit gyms and are, thus, faltering in form.

The problems stem from inexperienced trainers. CrossFit level-1 trainers are certified after completing a two-day seminar and 50-multiple-choice-question exam. That’s all you need to open up a CrossFit gym and start training as many athletes as you want.

So the individual coach determines whether you’ll have a positive experience or not? Gee, wish I’d thought of that.



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