A deep dive into the good, the bad, the pros, the cons, the science, and the catchphrases of the fitness movement known as CrossFit.
As I begin writing this, I am sitting at the breakfast table, with my first cup of coffee of the day, preparing myself for a new fitness adventure. Crossfit.
I know, I know. I am the Get-Fit Guy, how can this be the first time I have done CrossFit? It’s 2017 and Crossfit is certainly not new. Well, let me tell you: I have raced 10ks, Half Marathons, Full Marathons, Triathlons of every distance, done Zumba, Barre classes, Mass Gain Programs, yoga, calisthenics, boot camps, spin classes, swim meets, hockey, soccer, tennis, baseball, and I am sure I am missing a few things from that list. But for the first time I am heading to the local CrossFit Box to engage in something I have been hearing about for at least 15 years (CrossFit has been in existence since the year 2000 but I live in Canada and some things take a while to get to us - haha).
For nearly that entire 15 years, I have also been hearing about a ridiculously high incidence of injury coming from the CrossFit community and honestly, that alone was one of the major reasons why I have steered clear up until now.
So, why now do I throw caution to the wind and decide to brave this body breaker? Well, my answer could be long and complicated. But in a nutshell, not only do I believe in my own ability to say when enough is enough but I have also heard that even the inventor of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, has acknowledged the inherent problems with a workout regime that leaves 19.4 percent of his devotees lining up at physiotherapist, sport massage, and chiropractic offices.
In fact, when I dropped in to ask about the pricing at my local CrossFit Box, the strapping young lad who did the sales pitch clearly directed me to the 2-3 times per week package rather than the 5-7 days a week plan and that gave me hope that they have learned and changed with the times.
In a past Get-Fit Guy diatribe, Ben Greenfield said: “The problem with CrossFit is: A) unfit people who join a CrossFit gym getting pressured into performing advanced exercises with poor form; B) fit athletes getting pressured to compete against their peers even when they’ve already trained hard the day before; and C) CrossFit coaches who can get lazy and simple start creating random workouts because they’re “hard.” But when applied intelligently and with good form, I actually think CrossFit workouts are a great way to get fit fast.” Interesting. Well, there is a new Get-Fit Guy in town, so let’s take another look!
What is it?
According to the official CrossFit website: “The CrossFit protocol is designed to elicit a substantial neuroendocrine wallop and hence packs an anabolic punch that puts on impressive amounts of muscle, though that is not our concern. Strength is.”
Now, as much as I enjoy carrying some extra muscle around these days (for health reasons and also for vanity… I am only human after all) I like the idea that simply packing on weight is not the only goal they have. Getting strong is a lifetime pursuit that all of us should strive for (refer back to What Do We Mean When We Refer to “Fitness”). But let’s unpack the rest of that jargon filled statement from the official website.
Let’s start with “elicit a substantial neuroendocrine wallop.” What exactly does that mean?
I am going to borrow here from a paper titled: “Stress and the neuroendocrine system: the role of exercise as a stressor and modifier of stress” for the following explanation.
Stress is something experienced by all of us, no matter who we are, and it has both a positive and a negative effect on our lives. Our society has created an environment where there are tremendous opportunities to experience both negative stresses (distress) as well as positive stress (eustress) on a daily basis. Such stressful encounters have profound impacts upon the physiological workings of the human body, both in constructive and destructive fashions. One physiological system that is extremely reactive to stress is the neuroendocrine system. In fact, many clinicians and researchers use the responses of the neuroendocrine system as a means of assessing the stress effects and reactivity of the human body.