CrossFit: Really a Dangerous Cult? A Response to Grant Stoddard’s (Yahoo Health) Negative Take on CrossFit [Part I of 2]

On February 7, 2012, Grant Stoddard wrote a rather critical assessment of CrossFit (on Yahoo Health and licensed by Men’s Health).  Although I understand his concerns, I think a lot of what he wrote about generalizes CrossFit too much and does not present a fair representation of what CrossFit is all about!

As a sports medicine doctor, I have the pleasure of working closely with 3 area CrossFit facilities.  Each is run by highly motivated, intelligent, and hard working individuals who pride themselves on proper form and technique. I have a lot of experience dealing with CrossFitters and as an educator of Fitness Professionals, I feel as though I can comment better than most on many of the aspects of different types of fitness.

Mr. Stoddard essentially attacks CrossFit on five levels.

1.  CrossFit does not have ‘programmed’ workouts
2.  The intensity of Crossfit really worries ‘experts’
3.  Concern for injury
4.  Pukie the clown?
5.  The problem with group workouts

My responses:

1.  CrossFit does not have ‘programmed’ workouts.  Big Deal!  His complaint that CrossFit is not an organized workout with defined goals does not hold too much water…how is ‘organized’ defined?  True, it is not a circuit workout at your local fitness center.  It is also not a workout with a personal trainer who spends more time talking with you than working you out…and how well trained is that fitness professional?  (more on that later)  However, the workouts do address functional dynamic activities…meaning, there is likely a lot of utility to what the workouts encompass.

On that topic, Mr. Stoddard quotes a Dr. Pearson from Ball State who says that randomness of CrossFit workouts is not ideal for the ‘average exercise enthusiast.’  Dr. Pearson discusses how the only real utility for the workouts is maybe for fire fighters and Mr. Stoddard continues on this line with its utility for law enforcement individuals.

I have problems with this take.  First of all, it is true that CrossFit has a randomness to it.  Many exercise programs are like this so as to shock the body and bring out more muscle activity from muscles that might not be getting a ‘proper’ workout from conventional workout routines.  Most everyone can benefit from this approach.  Dr. Pearson’s take is without true merit…where is the science that shows the workouts are not ideal  for the  ‘average fitness enthusiasts’?  On that note, is there such a thing as an ‘average’ fitness enthusiast?  How enthusiastic can an ‘average fitness enthusiast’ be?  Is there a determined workout program out there JUST for any/everyone to achieve whatever goals are set?  To continue this thought, are challenging workouts just too tough for most people?  Maybe…but this is one part of what makes CrossFit so unique and successful.  Its appeal might be great just because there are many out there who are not  ‘average fitness enthusiasts’ and who enjoy maximizing their workout time.

Mr. Stoddard continues with another senseless heading that addresses the statement CrossFitters make that the winners of their ‘Games’ are the ‘fittest human beings in the world’.   I see nothing wrong with this claim as IronMan athletes and Super Endurance athletes make the same claim…how about the Strong Man competitors who say they’re the strongest in the world?  Each sport makes their claims, let’s leave it at that and not use this sentiment to pick apart CrossFit.

2. The intensity of Crossfit really worries ‘experts’.  This is an interesting one.  I seem to recall many marathoners dying every year from their sport.  I am familiar with football and other full contact sport athletes who receive brain-damaging injuries.  The list goes on.  Are so-called experts really that much more concerned with Crossfit than they are with other intense activities?  Mr. Stoddard attacks CrossFitters on their ‘one-size fits all’ approach that he finds flawed and dangerous.  What he fails to address is that properly run CrossFit gyms offer many levels of classes and many offer strength specific classes for those who wish to work on this part of their ‘fitness’ (a word that Mr. Stoddard uses to attack CrossFitter pionner Greg Glassman).

He quotes a particular CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist), who feels as though CrossFit doesn’t work from a strength-training perspective…he doesn’t agree with the ideology.  His experience with CrossFit stems from attending a weekend certification class.  From someone whose only  has such limited experience and interaction, I think it’s tough to make such an assessment.  By the way, what is the full background and training of this CSCS? Is he a true expert in this field?  I am a CSCS too…it’s also a certification, although you do need at least a bachelors degree in a sports related field.  Regardless, there are likely many CSCSs out there who are great with taking tests but have no idea what they’re doing in a ‘gym’ setting.  I think it’s fair game to question the qualifications of an ‘expert.’

I think Stoddard and his cohorts are missing the point of what CrossFit is all about. We’ll continue with the other topics with the next installment…

Please leave  your comments as this could make for a very interesting discussion.

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