Make no mistake, this is not some CrossFit fanboy blog trying to get bodybuilders to convert to the ‘dark side’ of burpees and kipping pull-ups… This is a logical explanation of why everything has its place and having experience in many different training methods goes an extremely long way to your continued progress.
Is CrossFit dangerous? Yes, absolutely, just like anything else that is competitive. People usually get hurt doing CrossFit because they attempt to replicate movements that seasoned athletes have been doing for years, after only a few months of training. There is a massive foundation that must be laid in a sport as complex as CrossFit, which is something often not respected by over-enthusiastic rookies. But does it still have benefits? Absolutely.
Reason why you should try CrossFit No. 1: Flexibility & Mobility
Even if you’ve only seen a bit of CrossFit before, it’s pretty obvious you need good mobility to be able to do a vast majority of the movements. This is often seen as a negative and off-putting thing – exercises like the Snatch or Ring Muscle Ups just “aren’t safe” for the general public. To a certain degree, yes, of course, this is true. You wouldn’t grab any old Tom, Dick or Harry off the street, hand them a barbell and tell them to snatch their socks off… but you wouldn’t do that for any sport.
A beginner that wants to do all the exercises used in CrossFit will have to spend time developing their mobility, flexibility, and stability before being allowed to throw themselves into complicated movements. This is something that a lot of regular gym goers & bodybuilders will miss out on. Gym machines are designed to keep people inside “safe” ranges of motion, though ironically neglecting strength in extended positions and consistently loading partial ranges for a long period of time is one of the quickest ways to posture issues and long-term injury.
One of the best and most effective exercises we use as a movement screen is the overhead squat. This squat variation will test how well your upper back moves, your shoulder mobility & stability, your hip mobility, and ankle mobility while also working on your core stability. Failure to do an overhead squat isn’t down to a lack of strength, but a major issue in one of those areas.
You can say that you don’t care, and why does the overhead squat matter if you aren’t interested in Olympic lifting, but it really does. For instance, your inability to hold the bar overhead is possibly due to tight pecs which always cause shoulders to round forward. In turn, this can limit your ability to engage your lats (giving you a straight up and down look with no back size) not to mention highly probable anterior shoulder pain. Pushing through this pain for long enough could result in a rotator cuff tear or even tendonitis.
By using one exercise a CrossFit coach can easily diagnose multiple issues and immediately give you exercises to work on them before any injuries or niggles occur.
Once your range of motion is on point and you can do an overhead squat with ease, your joints move well – plus your regular squat is probably awesome. This means you have less chance of injury and your muscle development will happen symmetrically, without compensation. Overall better movement means your recovery will be better, allowing you to hit more sessions each week.
Reason why you should try CrossFit No. 2: Different style of conditioning
I am all for the pump and the benefits of long duration, steady-state cardio but I am also very much a fan of being efficient with time and using intensity.
No, you don’t need to kip, but using CrossFit rep schemes with simple movements done in short blasts could be just the very thing you need if you’re struggling to cut that last bit of body fat.
When you program a CrossFit workout the right way you should be able to do the entire thing with minimal rests in less than 10 minutes… and feel like you have been hit by a truck afterwards. For example, if you do a ‘21, 15, 9’ style workout with 3 exercises, that makes 135 reps in total. If you pick simple bodyweight movements like squats, push-ups & sit-ups, and push yourself against the clock, you’ll probably be able to complete the workout in under 3 minutes. Compare that to what some people do in a 45-minute session, it’s just obvious why they never make any progress.
By managing your time right, you’ll be able to do your heavy lifts, some great assistance work, plus an intense workout all in under an hour. This is generally the structure of a CrossFit class. Attending a few will show you how much you really can fit in your session. Not many people have the time to spend hours at the gym every day.
In CrossFit, you use different exercise combinations and workouts that will really challenge your muscles in new ways – plus CrossFit loves to use compound movements, so you will never miss out on leg day.
You don’t need to adopt full CrossFit workouts or obsess about what your ‘Fran’ time is, but learning some of the rep schemes & combinations CrossFit uses allows you to apply them to your own training, greatly improving your workouts.
Reason why you should try CrossFit No. 3: Lifting technique
This is a hard pill to swallow for most gym-goers, but your lifting technique probably sucks. It’s not your fault if you’ve never had a coach how are you meant to know what’s right or wrong – squats & deadlifts are meant to hurt your back the next day, right?!
Nowadays, you’d have to travel pretty far to find a CrossFit gym without coaches that haven’t specialized in some form of weightlifting or powerlifting. CrossFit coaches aren’t just going to stand at the front of the room and say “3, 2, 1, go”, they are there to share their knowledge and help you learn.
Attending a few CrossFit classes gives you the chance to get an experienced eye on your lifting technique for the fraction of the price of a one-to-one session. Classes are generally capped, and any new start will usually complete a beginner’s course. In this time, you can have all your skills looked at and probably learn something new in the few sessions. You don’t need to master the Olympic lifts but, in my opinion, everyone should have a decent Power Clean and know how to safely lift a bar from the ground to the shoulders without grinding their lower backs. Not only are these movements great for explosive leg power, but you just generally look like a strong badass and having the traps to go along with it.
When you train in a community environment, it doesn’t take long because bad technique is called out. Lone wolves in the gym are usually the ones really missing out on technique work: if you’ve always trained by yourself how do you know you’re doing something correctly? Do you know exactly where you should feel something, and where you shouldn’t? You’d be surprised how many strong people I’ve met over the years in a terrible physical state because they were never shown how to lift properly. There’s a lot more to it than just picking something up and putting it down again, and ego is a very dangerous thing.
In summary, getting the basics down with CrossFit movements will give you better mobility, better workout combinations, better time management and solidify your lifting technique – ultimately making you a better athlete with less injuries. You may like it, you may not but there’s no reason why not to give it a try.