Friday, May 31, 2013

A Bodybuilder’s Honest Thoughts On Crossfit.

This one goes on for a while. Apparently I have a shitload to say about this topic.

I should probably begin this post saying that though I don’t currently practice it, I’m no stranger to Crossfit. I was there when it first reached Mexico, did a couple of the very first WODs, and personally knew the people who brought it here. I also helped my brother, for whom I have nothing but respect, open a Crossfit gym, and assist coached for the first five weeks after its opening. Did many, many WODs, including a couple of benchmarks. I do know Crossfit.

That being said, I can start saying why, though I very much respect most of the people I know who practice and have passion for Crossfit, I can’t really say the same thing about the discipline itself.

These amazing bodies weren't made solely in Crossfit gyms. Sorry.
Like any fitness discipline, its value is gauged by the results it yields, but this isn’t really a great way to gauge something like Crossfit, and here’s why. Most people I know who practice it often do have great physiques and could crush me in terms of fitness any day of the week. If that was all the information I provided you, you’d think Crossfit is fool-proof. However, here’s the thing: not one of these guys—not one—started doing Crossfit from the couch. What this means is that all of them had prior experience in regular gyms (which by the way the community refers to as “Globo Gyms”, referencing “Dodgeball” in a condescending and frankly sad attempt to demonize the competition), and had already developed good to great bodies through regular exercise.

Yes, they definitely became much more fit through Crossfit, and some of them improved their physiques with a good diet, but you know what? That shit can be done with any discipline if enough intelligent effort is applied.

In terms of the fundamental parameters of fitness, there is absolutely nothing special about Crossfit. Every single base with which it works is a repackage or reword of classic bodybuilding dogmas that aren't popular enough.

This seems like something that would be obvious, right? Yet it isn’t. Crossfit trainers cleverly explain to any new member how Crossfit differentiates to “Globo Gyms”. This is an attempt to snare guys who want to get fit without going to the regular gym because the regular gym didn’t give them any results, and Crossfit will.

You know why Globo Gyms (henceforth referred only as “gyms” because that Globo shit drives me crazy) don’t yield results as often as Crossfit does? Because there is no fucking ‘beginner’s lesson’ to regular gyms whereas everyone gets a crash course on their first trip to a Crossfit gym. If people walked into a regular gym knowing what's what (the purpose of this blog), there would be no problem.

Almost everything Crossfit claims makes it better than regular gyms is a shameless lie that takes advantage of the new members’ ignorance of regular gyms and how the human body works. These are the things Crossfit offers that—they claim—don’t apply to gyms:

Remember kids! If you passed out, the workout was effective!
1. Functional movements instead of isolation movements. Remember how bodybuilders never heard of squats and pull-ups because we only sit on machines and curl our arms? Probably not because that shit isn’t true. Everyone in the fitness world knows functional movements work and their benefits.

2. Constantly varied. No routines. Remember how bodybuilders do the same shit at the gym all the time? Right, you don’t because that's also a lie. In order to make muscles grow you need to change shit up every few weeks. Sure, you don’t change it every day like they do in Crossfit, but that’s because there’s no real reason to except to avoid “boredom”. In fact, I'm pretty sure a poor Crossfit trainer will only overtrain his/her gym members because of this.

3. Quick WODS instead of four hours at the gym. “You can go home in 20 minutes”. The only people who spend four hours at the gym aren’t going to the gym to work out. In fact, whenever I went to do a WOD, between waiting for the heat to start, warming up, having the WOD explained, and actually doing the WOD, athletes took about 1 hour or more to go home. That’s what I do when I do leg day.

4.  Everyone can do it. You don’t need prior fitness experience. This is true. It’s also true for everything in the history of the universe ever ever. There’s not one single discipline, artistic, intellectual or athletic, that doesn’t have an entry level and isn't about progression. I don’t know how this is a selling point.

5. It doesn’t make you bulky with huge ugly muscles. Who wants to be huge? No one who cares about big muscles except shitty monstrous bodybuilders, right? Big muscles, in Crossfit, are seen as a really bad thing because—get this—big muscles “serve no function”. Let that concept sink in for a second. It’s kind of a consensus in the Crossfit community that everyone in there can outlift a bodybuilder. I’ll get to the hilarious “Bodybuilders suck at Crossfit so we’re better than them” mindset later.

6. It really tires you out. I hate this. Yes, Crossfit tires you out almost to a fault. You know what else tires you out? Every fucking exercise in the world if you do it for enough time or without enough rest. How the hell is this a good thing by itself? Listen, if you don't get tired at the gym, regular or Crossfit, you're doing whatever you're doing wrong.

Undeniable proof that Crossfit has existed for centuries.
Now, like I said, I do know a lot of really fit, smart people who either share a huge passion for Crossfit or even own Crossfit gyms. So this isn’t me saying that Crossfit is garbage, because it isn’t.

However, for it to really have results you need to be particularly careful with your diet. Even more so than bodybuilding. A skinny guy can gain a shitload of muscle with a solid training regime and a so-so diet. A skinny guy isn’t going to gain any muscle at all with Crossfit and a so-so diet. In fact, considering the diet Crossfit uses (the Zone diet), no one is gonna gain any fucking muscle whatsoever. They’re gonna get stronger, no doubt, and might shed some fat very, very slowly—but they sure as shit ain’t getting any bigger. I know a lot of skinny guys who’ve been doing Crossfit for years and haven’t gained a pound.

But why would they want to get any bigger, right? What’s the point of bulging muscles? Well, the reason why this is an issue in Crossfit gyms is because big bulging muscles (pro bodybuilders) aren’t considered attractive in society, and lean muscular shapes (Brad Pitt) are. It really does boil down to that. Crossfit claims to be about fitness, but in truth it’s the vainest discipline that has ever existed (this coming from someone who’s actively defending a sport that’s almost all about aesthetics). It functions and exists purely because of vanity, which reflects on pretty much everything that goes on inside a Crossfit gym, even when “Leave your ego at the door” is supposedly a very important part of their philosophy.

Let’s talk a little about this vanity.

After a WOD you are encouraged to write your performance on a board for everyone to see. Why? They claim it is to track your progress but how the hell does writing it on the board serve that purpose? If you wanted to track your progress you’d do it on a tiny notebook because that’s only your business. Writing on the board only helps to compare your performance to everyone else’s and if you’re one of the elite, flaunt it.

This only leads to people lying about how well they did (I know this for a fact), or feeling inadequate in comparison to the more experienced athletes. And this has an even worse effect: newbs try too much too fast. When I helped my brother with coaching, I had to guard the weights like a gargoyle to make sure no one took more than they could handle (I remember this one ~140 lb guy who had been there for 2 weeks and tried to do kettlebell presses with 50 lbs because that was the prescribed weight).

Thus, the hilarious beginner-to-injury ratio Crossfit is famous for (pic linked a joke). Athletes who are admittedly great at Crossfit arrogantly conclude that doing something as all-encompassing as Crossfit so well would logically mean they dominate every fitness field. What happens then is a lot of injuries caused because of hubris.

It doesn’t stop there. Crossfit pros also conclude that being experts in Crossfit also turns them into sports medics, nutritionists, lawyers, builders and superheroes. I know there is a qualification test that covers a pretty complete albeit shallow list of things necessary to become a certified Crossfit trainer, but it certainly isn’t enough.

You're also very, very likely to walk into a Crossfit gym to find half the population doing their workout, and chilling after doing it, shirtless. They'll probably feed you some bullshit about doing it because it's hot and because the workout they just did is so hardcore they'd sweat a lot, but everyone knows exactly what's going on. Say what you will about regular gyms, but at least they have the decency to ban shirtless workouts because it's unhygienic and frankly kinda gross.

Not to mention you might as well have a big tattoo on your chest that says "Look at me! I'm a giant douche!"

"I'd like to thank Greg Glassman!"
But here’s a cool ideal: Crossfit isn’t something you do for the sake of Crossfit. You do Crossfit as an addition to any other sports you like to perform. You play soccer? Surf? Basketball? No problem. Being proficient at Crossfit makes you sort of a “Jack of all trades” (*cough* and master of none *cough*) and would immediately make you better at your sport of choice.

Yeah except . . . yeah this isn’t ever the case. I don’t know anyone who does Crossfit for anything other than becoming better at doing Crossfit. You don’t do Fran in under 5:00 to be a better Quarterback, you do Fran in under 5 minutes so next time you can do Fran in under 4 minutes. Again, nothing wrong with this—I just feel the need to point out the incongruity.

I am aware that a lot of pro athletes, including NFL players and for some reason a lot of MMA fighters do Crossfit. I have no doubt it helps them as training but I’d be legit surprised if I saw any kind of stat that proved that NFL players that train with Crossfit perform better than players that train in a regular gym, like they’ve done for the last 60 years.

Having gotten that out of my magnificent chest, let me go into why I think Crossfit works now, and is probably not a passing fad. Crossfit does have a huge, HUGE benefit that regular gyms can’t claim: it is great as a social experience; more so than any gym could ever hope to be.

The reason why so many athletes become so easily attached to Crossfit as a sport, and become really loyal to their gym and trainers is because trainers are encouraged to treat them like friends, and trainers in turn encourage athletes to treat others as friends with respect.

I love the gym, but am completely aware of how shitty it can be. A lot of the people there are either cocky douchebags or detached Hulk-wants-to-be-left-alone assholes (I fall in this category). Coaches are rarely very helpful or patient, you have to wait sometimes to use a specific machine, etc.

But in Crossfit, this is almost unheard of. In just a few weeks of Crossfit I made a lot of friends, and not just gym friends—I mean “let’s hang out and go to the pub” friends. The fact that everyone, from the pro trainer to the noob grandma, are in theory doing the exact same WOD, helps create a very welcoming and fantastic sense of community and camaraderie.

"Let us pray the Dirge of Fran, Brothers."
For people who are insecure about working out, going to a Crossfit gym where they know they’ll be welcomed and will never ever be ridiculed for being too weak or too small or too fat, it’s a goddamn godsend. Insecure people find there a home, and it’s also an amazing tool of motivation. Feeling lazy today? I’ll go because I’ll see my friends there. It definitely keeps people going, loyally.

The problem, though, is that this has a dark side. Crossfit becomes so welcoming to everyone, from big gym converts, to skinny couch potatoes, to insecure overweight girls, that it almost begins turning into a cult. Is cult a strong word? Not really; the whole thing becomes borderline creepy. There was a point that I wanted to freak the fuck out because Crossfit became the center of every goddamn conversation that happened in my social circles.

Every. Single. One.

Worse still, all these conversations are almost scripted. They’re always the same. There is so much circle-jerking going on in Crossfit gyms I wonder why the mats aren’t permanently stained with d*ckcheese. It completely becomes about “Us” and “Them”. Or, more accurately: “Us” versus “Them”.

“We the Crossfitters are the Elite. We are the fittest on Earth. They the globo gym brutes are ugly monsters. They can’t reach their own assholes to wipe. There is no point in doing anything other than Crossfit. If you want to run a marathon, don’t train for a marathon—do Crossfit Endurance or you won’t finish. Are you just jogging now? That’s okay—better than nothing, while you return to Crossfit. The only reason anyone who doesn't do Crossfit has huge muscles is because of steroids. Why do you even want to have huge muscles? What’s the point?”

All of these are actual quotes I’ve heard. I’m not making this shit up, believe it or not.

Then there’s this.

The ignorance almost gave me an embolism.

See? I’m not making up this “Us versus Them” mentality. I don’t know what ignorant and talentless moron drew this (I found it ages ago and had to save it because it was so hilariously infuriating; it even had the artist making some bitter "Enjoy your steroids!" comment) but it reflects the Crossfit frame of mind to a t. It's also weirdly sexist. "A woman beat you? Ha! What a loser!"

There’s a whole practice about inviting bodybuilders to perform WODs to show how non-functional they are. There’s even a DVD where they invite a Chiefs linebacker to compare his performance, which obviously doesn’t measure up, like that is somehow a testimony of Crossfit’s superiority.

Probably because the pro NFL athlete isn’t as fit as the average Crossfit athlete, right? Yeah they really want you to believe so. How the shit would someone who’s never done Crossfit measure up to someone who’s been doing Crossfit for years? It’s like Ronnie Coleman challenging your mom to see who has bigger arms. It’s a retarded gauge. It makes zero sense, yet it’s always taken seriously. I’d love to see the 150lb Crossfit superstar stand behind the defensive line in an NFL game and not get filleted. They don’t talk about that detail, of course.

Holy shit.

Pictorial representation of how the Crossfit
community sees bodybuilders.
Okay so I’ve written a goddamn critical doctoral dissertation here, so I can’t really get away with saying “I have nothing against Crossfit” at this point, can I? I guess being a brute Globo Gym bodybuilder who was for years surrounded by Crossfit trainers and athletes gave me a lot to criticize. Thorn in my paw, I guess.

I do want to stress this, though:

Though I don't think it's anything special, I don’t really have anything against Crossfit as a discipline. My problem is the community it creates.

The mindset of Crossfit cultists becomes so ignorant and one-sided, not to mention mindlessly critical of every other fitness discipline they see as threats, it’s borderline psychotic.

The truth is that, as a sport, you could do a lot worse than Crossfit. You’ll find in there a welcoming community, a workout regime that will never bore you, coaches whose jobs depend on being helpful and friendly, and of course physical results.

Sure, results you could also get in the gym, and quicker, but the truth is that big gyms aren’t for everyone for a million reasons, and Crossfit pretty much is for everyone. The unbelievable growth of Crossfit all around the world isn’t an accident and most likely isn’t a fad. People stick to it because, even if they don’t see huge results, they like doing it and spending time at the box with new friends.

But I really, really wish The Cult would stop with the fucking unnecessarily aggressive antagonizing. It irks me. I find it irksome.



Thanks for reading.

23 comments:

  1. Holy crap. This is great!

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  2. Nice post, I pretty much completely agree with you. It gets people off the couch and doing stuff, which is great, but it's a little bit misguided and a lot cultish, which I could do without.

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  3. Thank you for such a detailed great piece

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  4. CrossFitter here, agree with every word.

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  5. Globo gym user here (~8 years). I have almost had no contact with crossfit or it's community, but have heard some things like this and seen the "do YOU crossfit?" signs for classes at my gym. I still want to try it on a curiosity challenge, in the same way that I like trying new exercises at the gym. Love the article, will not fall victim.

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  6. Great Read! Thank you!

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  7. Fantastic read!

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  8. The only real reason I hate crossfit is because of how often I hear "you've got to try crossfit!" from someone

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  10. Been doing Crossfit 2 months, and this made me laugh with how true it all is. I'm using it to get myself back in the gym... the friendly atmosphere is just what I need right now, but damn, perfect analysis of the more cultish elements.

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  11. I've read a few posts like this today and I agree as a whole, but I've noticed that not all CrossFit gyms are created equal. The box I go to is owned by a "globo gym." More than 50% of the members split time between CrossFit and Bodybuilding. The trainers absolutely NEVER say anything like "who needs those big muscles." One of our trainers is a gdamn monster, and a few of the other members could easily break my torso with their fists. Our gym is ridiculously nice (I wouldn't be able to remotely afford it if my work didn't pay for most of it), but I just wanted to say that not all CrossFit programs fall into the whole Us vs. Them mentality. We've never attempted to complete a workout in 20 minutes and feel anyone thinking most of the things you discredit above are true are idiots and should learn about things before judging them. Then again, since many boxes probably do prey on new dumb wannabe buff douchebags, how can we avoid their Facebook posted bullshit?

    (pardon the bad grammar)

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