As a CrossFit coach, naturally, I speak to many people about CrossFit. Not in the sense of how great I think it is or which brutally difficult workout I “crushed” the other day, but in the sense of how I believe it can change a person’s life, in more ways than merely just improving fitness. I often hear similar reasons from different people about why they choose not to give it a shot. Some of the most common reasons I hear are:
- It’s dangerous and I don’t want to get injured
- I’m way too “out of shape” to even start (whatever the hell that means…)
- I’m too old and it’s way too late in the game for me to start working out like that
- I don’t want to get “bulky” (typically heard from the ladies)
The first half of this article will dispel some of these common misconceptions and concerns and explain why they are irrational and potentially keeping you from being the healthiest, fittest version of yourself.
This is probably the most debated topic that I’ve been exposed to since I started CrossFit in 2013…Is CrossFit dangerous?
Let me explain two ideas of what I believe CrossFit is when attempting to answer this question. The first idea is CrossFit as a sport. If you are using CrossFit to compete in the sport of CrossFit against other athletes, chances are that your level of risk of injury is going to increase compared to someone who is using CrossFit to improve their quality of life. That’s the second idea; CrossFit as a functional strength and conditioning program used to prepare the average person for the rigors of everyday life.
Reverting back to CrossFit as a sport, just like any other sport, there is an inherent risk of injury. Athletes typically choose to compete in their sport because they love it and the thrill of competition. They are willing and accepting of the risk of injury to compete in the sport. Naturally, they are going to push themselves a little more or much more than someone who just wants to walk up a flight of stairs without being winded. Which brings me to my second point, CrossFit as a functional fitness program. I will venture a guess and say most of the people reading this article are people who are looking to improve their health and fitness and don’t care much for competing in the sport of CrossFit.
Like any other high-intensity training program, when you are pushing your body hard, there is generally more room for error. When fatigue sets it, you are more likely to do the exercises incorrectly and just finish the workout for the sake of finishing it. That’s where proper coaching comes in.
If you are considering CrossFit, this is the single most-important piece of advice I can give you…Get to know the coaching staff you will be working with. Ask questions about their values and their coaching style. What’s their coaching philosophy like? What are their priorities when coaching? Pay attention to how they coach during their class or one-on-one session with you. Are they engaged or just going through the motions? I’ve been to gyms where I’ve seen the coach bark out orders to the class and lets them go about their business while he/she proceeds to look at their phone for the duration of the class. This is how people get injured. It’s not the movements. It’s not the intensity. It’s the quality of coaching. A good coach will recognize flaws in your movement and help you dial it back so that you still achieve the purpose of the workout and challenge yourself while remaining uninjured. If you have a coach that shows those qualities, you’re in good hands and you have nothing to worry about. Trust that they have your best interests in mind.
I’m way too “out of shape” to even start
First off…are you kidding me? Where did people get this into their heads? Probably because all they know about CrossFit is what they’ve seen on ESPN at the CrossFit Games. I’ll touch on this a bit more later in the article. Another possible reason is that they see how fit their friend is that has been doing CrossFit for years and they automatically assume they were that fit to begin with and only people that fit can do it.
Whatever the case, think about something amazing you’ve accomplished in your life. It doesn’t have to be health or fitness-related. How long did it take you to accomplish that thing? Or how long did it take to be where you currently are in life? Did you magically have the skills to be at your current job or to be a great mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend? I would guess the answer is no.
These things take a long time of learning and mistakes to get good at them. So, why should anyone think that health and fitness are any different? Really fit people that do CrossFit are really fit because they started somewhere, and they’ve probably had humbling moments in the process as well. But the magic is in the process. Becoming more fit and healthy takes time, and a good CrossFit program and coach will help you along the way, meeting you where you’re at, and setting the stage for further improvement.
I’m too old and it’s too late to start
Ok, I get this one a lot. You may be at an age where you feel like your body is “frail”, you’ve never been on a structured fitness program before, and you have no idea where to start. Or maybe you were very active in your younger years and you started becoming more sedentary later on and you just don’t know how to get back into a fitness routine at your current age.
Even the thought of starting CrossFit can be overwhelming, especially if the majority of the gym members are younger. It can absolutely be intimidating. However, I have seen many older adults spark a fire within themselves and completely change their lives for the better by taking a leap of faith and just trying CrossFit for a few months. CrossFit coaches should not expect you to squat as much weight as a competitive 30 year-old (depending on your goals) and if they do you should find another gym. This is unreasonable, especially when you are new to the movements and learning proper technique. But they should challenge you to push your body a little bit past what it is currently capable of.
That’s how your body adapts and becomes stronger, when given the appropriate amount of time to recovery. In my opinion, there is no better functional strength and conditioning program out there that will develop a strong and resilient mind and body through older age. If being in a class with younger people still intimidates you, here’s a good article that explains how many CrossFit gyms (aka. boxes) have specific programs for seniors: https://journal.crossfit.com/article/masters-saline-2
I don’t want to get “bulky”
This is a common reason I’ve heard from women about why they don’t want to try CrossFit, and again, I believe this concern comes from what they’ve seen on TV in the CrossFit Games (the fittest women on the PLANET). These ladies are professional CrossFitters, who train several times a day, and have specific nutritional strategies which lend themselves to increased muscle mass and size compared to the average female.
This is not a realistic expectation for the woman who wants to participate in CrossFit as a functional fitness program 3-5 times per week. What is a more realistic expectation in regards to changes in the body is for women to notice increased muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular and respiratory fitness, coordination, balance, bone strength (i.e. bone mineral density), and decreased body fat percentage. The reason you would start to notice your muscles standing out more (commonly referred to as muscle “definition” or “tone”, although these terms are misleading, I won’t get into that discussion here), is because you are using and training them, and you are decreasing body fat percentage!
Sure, some women that do CrossFit for general health and fitness have slightly bigger muscles than other women, but that’s largely determined by genetics and how the individual body responds to training. Have fun with the training and adjust your schedule and nutrition based on how you want your body to look and feel. If you’re not sure where to start with nutrition, ask the coach at your gym and chances are he or she will be able to point you in the right direction.
Now that I’ve covered the most common reasons I hear in regards to not wanting to try CrossFit, I’m going to conclude this article by explaining to you my top reasons for why I think it’s beneficial and why anyone can do it.
1. Functional movements resemble the demands of everyday life
You remember how I mentioned earlier that CrossFit is a functional strength and conditioning program? Well, to put it simply, the term “functional” is referring to exercises that resemble and prepare you for the physical stressors of everyday life. The exercises that you’ll be exposed to are foundational human movements that involve squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling, carrying, lunging, and rotating.
Challenging yourself with a variety of these movements that are combined in different ways will prepare you to handle many of the physical demands that you will encounter daily: getting in and out of your car, sitting down on a chair and standing up, walking up a flight of stairs, picking something up off the ground, carrying your groceries to the car or back home, pushing or pulling an unruly door open, etc. All these tasks become much easier when your muscles, joints, and tendons are stronger.
2. Exercises are adjustable for people of any age, skill, or fitness level
I feel that many people are intimidating by the barbell movements the most. You know, the very fast and explosive movements, weights on both ends of a piece of long metal, that generally involve moving the weight from the ground to the hips, shoulders, or above your head. Those definitely can shock and scare people who have never done them before, and it’s easy to think “there is no way I can do that”.
Well, let me just say, yes you can, because these movements don’t need to be done with an insanely large weight for them to be effective, and when you learn them you will learn how to do them properly and safely with a PVC pipe (that weighs like a pound) or a very light training barbell (up to 15lbs) until you demonstrate competency and comfort with the movement.
If you have a good coach, and there are plenty of fantastic coaches out there (remember what I said earlier about asking questions and paying attention), he or she will adjust or “scale” the movement difficulty to your ability level until you’re ready to progress. Be competent in your movements, then challenge yourself.
3. You’re surrounded with other people with similar health and fitness goals
One of the most important factors to me (and research supports this: Social Support from Exercise Study and CrossFit and Community Study) in regards to sticking with an exercise program, is the social support you get not just from your friends and family, but from the people you surround yourself with when you’re exercising.
If you’ve been at a traditional health and fitness club for a while, ask yourself these questions: When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with someone at the gym? How many lifelong friendships have you made at your gym? How motivated do you feel to go to that gym because of the people you see there? If you don’t have a positive answer to those questions, perhaps it’s time to consider other options.
Due to my travels in the military, I’ve been a member at CrossFit gyms in San Diego, CA, Virginia Beach, VA, Munster, IN and Chicago, IL. I was a member at these gyms for at least 6 months at a time or longer, and to this day I have not made more lasting and supportive friendships in any other aspect of my life. I still keep in touch with people from each of those locations even though I’ve moved on. I’m confident that you will have a similar experience as well.
4. Measurable results in all aspects of fitness
Many of the workouts (aka. “WODs” – Workout Of the Day) have names assigned to them and challenge a different aspect of your physical fitness. These workouts seek to develop balance across many domains of fitness, such as: strength, stamina, cardiorespiratory endurance, flexibility, agility, balance, coordination, accuracy, speed, and power.
These WODs are scored using time to completion, rounds completed in a certain amount of time, etc. When you track your results (which is often easy these days, as many gyms have databases that track your results) and repeat these workouts, you can very easily see how your fitness is improving among these fitness domains.
How do you truly know if you are improving by going to the gym and running 30 minutes on the treadmill every other day or lifting weights with arbitrary sets and repetitions? It’s difficult to stay motivated when you just go through the motions. Training your body with purpose and seeing measurable results is far more effective.
5. What you may have seen on TV is the top .1% of CrossFitters
This is my final point in this post. As briefly mentioned earlier in this article, what you see on TV is the elite of the elite in the world of CrossFit. Do not be intimidated by this and think that you will be lifting 400lbs from the floor the first day you go the a CrossFit box.
Most of us just want to be strong, fit, and healthy for everyday life and will never qualify for the CrossFit Games. However, if that’s your cup of tea, then by all means go for it! But for the rest of us that just want a better quality of life, CrossFit, in my opinion, with the right coaching and progression, will help you become healthier and fitter than you’ve ever been in your life, assuming other factors such as nutrition, sleep, and stress management are accounted for. But that’s for another time.
Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear your comments and questions about this topic.