Crossfitter Wins Gold – So Why Do People Still Hate Crossfit?

Congratulations to Tia-Clair Toomey winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in the 58kg weightlifting event with a combined total weight lifted of 201kg.

What a cracking result!

For those who don’t know … Tia-Clair is also one of the worlds best Crossfitters. Taking out first place in the Crossfit Games in 2017 and placing second in 2015 and 2016.

Her success has shocked many Crossfit haters … (rightfully so) and social media is buzzing once again with enthusiasts advocating that Crossfit athletes are truly the fittest people on the planet.

So are they?

And is Crossfit the better way to train?

Given the shear number of people openly hating on Crossfit … i’ll assume the majority of readers answered no.

But is that opinion substantiated?

I recently asked my Facebook followers if Tia-Clair’s result would silence some of the haters.

The point was raised (by a friend of mine and crossfit facility owner) that, as an industry, we shouldn’t be hating on any style of exercise. Whether it’s bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, crossfit, calisthenics, gymnastics, pilates, kung fu, dance, zumba or yoga … they’re all helping to get society moving more to some degree.

My friend made a good point that exercise is exercise … and given our collective state of health, any is better than none.

I tend to agree with him here … but there are many coaches who don’t. And there’s some good reasons why.

So why do so many people dislike Crossfit? If Tia-Clair can jump into Olympic lifting with minimal experience and win gold should the haters reconsider their stance on Crossfit?

I think the general consensus among people who dislike Crossfit is that as professionals we have an obligation to guide general populations through exercise in the safest, and most effective way possible.

And as a result of hundreds of years of sports and exercise science, we have a pretty good idea what that should look like.

Crossfit competition basically ignores many of those key fundamentals … and in the past, many CF coaches failed to adequately support novices.

Now before I go any further, I want to point out that my experience with CF is limited to a few training sessions in four different gyms and my years training clients, some of whom are ex-Crossfitters. I am by no means a Crossfit expert! In addition, it’s very important to point out that not all facilities or coaches are created equal. like any industry … there are always going to be good and bad examples. CF gyms are no exception.

There are stacks of really great crossfit coaches. Each with their own unique style of programming. Many now boast Sports & Exercise Science degrees, or strength and conditioning backgrounds. Two good examples I follow are Chad Mackay (Australia) and Kelly (K-Star) Starrett (USA). Unfortunately, like anything, there are also some average coaches out there allowing novice people to jump under barbells with relatively no experience.

And I believe that that’s where the problems started …

So what do I personally think about Crossfit? 

Honestly, if I was 20 years old with a few less injuries I’d probably be all over it. I love competition … I love pushing myself to my limits … couple that with a strong gym culture and a love of working out and you’ve got Crossfit!

Sounds pretty awesome right? So what’s the problem?

Well it’s important to note that I’m fully aware of the risks involved. And I think that’s where things got worse for Crossfit’s reputation. People go into it with unrealistic expectations, or the wrong mindset.

To be more specific, I think the hate kinda stems from a rudimentary miss understanding of the sport. I use the word sport, because in my opinion Crossfit is more like a sport than regular exercise in a gym … and should probably be compared to other sports.

So hating crossfit because people hurt themselves is kinda no different than hating on league or soccer because people hurt themselves. But when it went mainstream back sometime in 2006-07, for some stupid reason people thought a Crossfit WOD was a good way for an out-of-shape person to get back in shape.

To me that’s like saying … “shit bro, you’re out of shape … you should start playing Rugby League.”

Sure, loads of people have tried … but it usually ends in injury!

I think that the sooner people view Crossfit as a sport the better. And as far as sports go, it definitely falls into the higher risk category! (I’ll explain why shortly)

Ok, for argument sake, let’s pretend you agree with me, and Crossfit is a sport. Shouldn’t we be encouraging people to participate in sports as much as possible? Because sport is healthy right …?

Well that highlights another issue altogether.

No … I don’t think all sport is necessarily healthy. Obviously it completely depends on the individual participating. Particularly if you’re an out-of-shape person who hasn’t exercised for a few years. I’m not alone on this opinion … check out this article from my friend and practicing cardiologist Dr Ross Walker.

Don’t get me wrong … of course I want to encourage people to move more.

But consider this … very few (if any) athletes stay injury free for long. That goes for all sports! (or anything that combines complex movements with competition)

Recently I was training a client of mine who played professional Rugby League in Australia and then spent his last few years playing Rugby Union in japan.

He said … “as a league player, you only ever play one game each season injury free … your first game!”

And it’s not just painful injury athletes deal with. As history has shown, just like anyone, athletes can die young. Just look at the recent tragic death of Fiorentina captain Davide Astori. At 31, he passed away in his sleep at the team hotel before a game. And there’s been many other cases of professional athletes dying young.

So just being an athlete doesn’t automatically indicate you’ll be healthy. Actually quite the contrary … statistics indicate you’ll be injured.

And due to the demanding nature of some of the movements, and super high intensity workouts, the risk of injury in Crossfit is pretty high.

(I’ll explain why in moment …)

But let’s get one thing clear, I think Crossfit’s reputation as an injury prone style of exercise didn’t blow up because of the program. In my opinion, it got a bad rep because it appealed to the masses, which resulted in lots of people attempted to compete on a playing field they had no business being on in the first place.

People with little to no prior physical preparation smashing themselves on the gym floor is never going to end well. Irrespective of if it’s Powerlifting, Gymnastics or Crossfit.

Here’s the thing … athletes have a different mindset to general populations. They understand that to master their sport takes many hours of practice. They also understand that injuries come with the territory and are inevitable.

Name me a successful Crossfit athlete and I’ll also name you a Crossfit athlete who’s most likely made huge sacrifices to their long term health, and who does far more training to strengthen their body than a daily WOD.

Even still … I don’t think I’ve ever met an ex elite-level athlete (of any sport) who wasn’t carrying, or rehabbing injuries. And we have the privilege of training a few here at Unity Gym.

So why do I think Crossfit has a high injury risk?

The Crossfit Games are completely randomized workouts; athletes aren’t allowed to know the workouts. That’s what makes it so challenging. (And entertaining to watch!)

But I think the nature of a randomized workout provides a dangerous platform. By nature people try to replicate comp environments. So they should. But there’s a lot of room for coaches to get it wrong. Particularly with beginners.

In addition, the coupling of difficult movements with high volume workouts increases the risk of repetitive strain, and overuse injury. Also the pairing of highly demanding movements with high volume workouts compounds the injury risk.

These factors alone makes for an environment that breeds injury … it’s just not the best way to train for the average person.

On top of that, you have to be a bloody good coach to guide general populations through complex movement patterns like a snatch or muscle up.

My biggest gripe is that most Crossfit athletes know the risks … and embrace the challenge. Most general populations don’t.

To mitigate risk, good coaches can and should be designing their own programs to safely onboard new people. And people who want to compete need to do way more work on themselves than a daily WOD.

What’s shit about our industry in general is that your average punter turns up to the gym and thinks they can do it in 60 minutes a day. You can’t avoid it, people want overnight results!

And in many cases there’s zero time spent prioritising mobility or strength and conditioning to overcome issues in the body. Thanks to some pretty gnarly Crossfit workouts, this can result in people throwing barbells above their heads before their ready. Throw into the mix that, like previously stated, there are lazy coaches who don’t deliver good programming and you will have injuries. Lots of them!

Honestly, 95% of the people trying to compete in Crossfit probably have absolutely no business doing it!

Their bodies are just not at that level yet … and some never will be.

Why?

In my experience the average person doesn’t have enough time to dedicate to their training. Like any sport, the work required to get good at it is insane. 60 minutes a day definitely won’t cut it!

I think the average person needs a more progressive approach to exercise with proper programming. 

No one should walk in of the street and be encouraged to compete. Just like no one should expect to train at the same level as an experienced or elite level athlete when their not one. But unfortunately I know of people walking into Crossfit boxes and being encouraged to attempt Olympic lifts etc. in their first week of training.

In extreme cases, you even have (what I’d call) a complete novice performing the same, or similar workouts as an experienced athlete.

Of course that’s a recipe for disaster!

Here at Unity Gym our program has some pretty cool calisthenics and gymnastics movements … but we’d never ask someone who’d just walked in of the street to attempt them. The technical movements like a handstand or a muscle-up take heaps of prior conditioning.

And every movement in our FMS program has a series of progressions to properly condition the body. Some of the harder movements require years of consistent practice to master.

It’s a step-by-step process. (and so it should be)

Taking a progressive approach to exercise that focuses on both mobility and strength helps to build a much stronger body, with far less injuries. And in my opinion it’s definitely the better way to train for 99% of people!

So, to answer my initial questions …

Are Crossfit athletes the fittest on the planet?

I think the top level athletes are total BEASTS. And I definitely think they’d give most athletes a run for their money. Anyone who disagrees needs to watch the games one year!

Is Crossfit the best way to train?

As I’ve made clear, like anything, this depends on your goals and the coach. Personally I don’t think CF is the best way to train for most people. If you weigh up risk versus reward, adding competition with complex movement won’t suit most people.

In summary, if you do find yourself inspired by Tia-Clair and are looking to join a Crossfit box please be aware, like most sports there’s risks.

If you need proof, just look at the fact that thanks to Crossfit, popular physio tape brand Rocktape has been able to create a lucrative business that allows athletes to parade their injuries around like a decorative badge of honor. Trust me, you’ll never have a problem picking out the Crossfitter in the group …

During its rise in popularity, Crossfit has also provided many profitable joint ventures for practitioners, orthopedic surgeons and physiotherapist.

But the industry is definitely making strides in the right direction.

Their slogan is “Forging Elite Fitness” … I still kinda think that’s debatable. It might be true, but at what cost? My experience makes it look more like “Breaking Elite Humans” … but that’s just my experience. Like anything, take it with a grain of salt!

My advice, no matter what style of training you’re about to embark on, find a good coach who has a more progressive approach to movement. And for god sake use some common sense … if you’re encouraged to do something that doesn’t feel right, chances are it’s not.

If you’re cool with all that then good for you … go and have fun! I’ll be cheering from the grandstand …

If you don’t find what you’re looking for in Crossfit and would like to try a progressive approach that teaches you how to move, instead of just exercise … we run a 3 hour introduction to our program called the Foundations Workshop on the first Saturday of every month.

Go here to find out more.