The Ultimate Beginners Guide To CrossFit: Is It Nonsense Or Does It Work?

does crossfit work

I will tell you a short story before I dive into the subject.

I am a sociable person. By default, when I go into a gym, I do my training but I also interact with other people. Because I work in an office for at least 6 hours every day, it’s like I am craving for some social interaction. You got to keep those skills up. I am doing this because I don’t want to become an office rat. You know, that person you see in a gym that doesn’t say anything, and it seems weird and hard to communicate with?

Anyways, one day at the gym, as I was doing my training routine I always use when I want to lose fat (which can be found in my book), a workout buddy came to say hello before he started to train.

He seemed enthusiastic about something, so I asked him “what’s up”.

He told me about his weekend experience with a Crossfit class. It was his first experience. He told me that everyone there was into it. Apparently, they were doing some circuit workouts, going from exercise to exercise without a break. I don’t remember exactly, but they did something like this:

They started with deadlifts with a set weight for 15 reps, they continued with barbell squats for 15 reps, rope pulls, push ups, and a bunch of other bodyweight exercises. All without rest in between. After they finished this circuit, they redid it again for a couple of times. He said that he felt his muscles burning after just 15 minutes and that he seriously considers switching to Crossfit.

The pump, the squeeze, the burn-out, the feeling of a well worked body was there.

And, believe me, he’s no average guy. At 185cm, and 91kg weight, he looks muscular and ripped. His squat is around 400 pounds, deadlift around 440 pounds, and he was bench pressing 308 like it was nothing. Yet, doing that single Crossfit class, made him fell in love with that type of training.

This is why I wanted to write about this subject. Does Crossfit work, and for what?

What Is CrossFit Training?

what is crossfit

All those words you hear about high intensity can be applied to Crossfit. Crossfit training is an intense style of workout that focuses on performing strength and aerobic exercises ranging from deadlifts, and up to rope pulls, sprints, clean and jerks.

Most trainers categorize their workout routines as workout of the day or “WOD’s”. If you are wondering what is WOD CrossFit, they are workout classes often programmed in 30 minutes sessions that are extremely demanding. Basically, a workout like that can get you down on the floor if you are a beginner.

Basically, you will train continuously through a set period of time through a set number of exercises. Talking about intense. You can’t get anything more challenging than this.

The example my friend showed me was one of those WOD’s. They did 2-4 rounds with those exercises. Short and intense.

What Is It Good For?

Most Crossfit trainers, and people that are following this workout style, say that Crossfit is the ultimate workout if you are looking for a balance between strength, power, flexibility, and body composition. Is that true?

I am a guy that likes specificity. I am not entirely satisfied with generalized opinions. That’s why I want to give you my 2 cents when it comes to Crossfit. Here is it:

If you are a boxer, athlete, or person involved in fighting sports, and you want to improve your endurance and conditioning, Crossfit can be an excellent choice. This depends on how you can combine it with your sport specific training. For example, I saw people doing Muay Thai, combined with Crossfit to improve their conditioning. I saw insane improvements in speed, and endurance.

Who Is Crossfit For?

people jumping on tires

This style of workout can be literally done by anyone looking to improve their fitness (I’ll talk about its application towards muscle building and fat loss separately).

Most trainers don’t take into account the individual characteristics of each person. The programs are mostly rigid, and every person attending to the workout has to keep up with the others.

Rather than creating personalized workouts taking into account the individual age, recovery, mental, physical status, most of them are standardized.

Programs are never changed. What’s changed in them is intensity and load.

For example, if you can’t do barbell squats because you are not flexible enough, or you don’t have enough mobility, you will have to substitute it with a similar movement until you can do them.

In my opinion, Crossfit is best geared towards the following people:

Beginners – Contrary to popular belief, Crossfit can be the best choice if you are a beginner. You don’t have to know anything about training or dieting. You will learn the moves with the help of training partners, and coaches. You will build your endurance fast. You’ll also gain some muscle and maybe lose fat at the same time

People looking for group training – If you don’t like training the conventional way, or without having a training partner, then looking this way might be the correct thing to do. I have many friends that don’t do weight training because they either find it boring or they don’t like training without a group. If you find yourself in this area, go with Crossfit.

People obsessed with fitness – These people like to workout every day. They like to get their body wrecked. To them, a workout is considered good enough when their body can’t take it anymore. Some of them might be masochists.

Who Is Crossfit Not For?

People past the beginner phase that are looking to reach their maximum muscular potential – I am included here. It’s not that I love to workout alone, but I want to maximize muscle gaining to the point where I’ll reach my genetic potential. Crossfit can’t offer me this because most routines are not geared to maximum hypertrophy but a combination of endurance, strength, and hypertrophy. I don’t want to be jack of all trades.

People past the beginner phase that are looking to reach their maximum strength potential – This is the same as with maximum muscular potential. If you want to get as strong as possible, you’d better start doing a workout routine geared towards strength training.

Myself? I like to lift heavy weights:

Athletes that are involved in certain sports – If you are involved in a certain sport, it’s probably better if you stick to sports specific training. Finding someone that can maximize your performance in that specific sport is the best way. While Crossfit can make you good at many things, you won’t excel at anything in particular.

People with health conditions that makes impossible to sustain long term endurance sports – I am not a doctor but if you suffer from

How Is A Typical Crossfit Class?

Before you decide if you want to try Crossfit or not, here are some of the most frequent training classes you can stumble upon:

1. The introductory class – these classes are usually FREE of charge for the first training session. They include basic bodyweight training, some basic stretching routines, and a quick overview of what you would be doing if you’d join the class.

Here’s an example:

2. Regular classes – these are the most frequent of them all. You are looking at a training session between 30 and 90 minutes. All people participating at a class are aligned by instructors, and set to start at the same time. Instructors are watching your movement, keep you on track, support and correct you.

Here’s an example:

Crossfit Workout Styles

Depending on the facility and available coaches, you are looking at a few training styles but the most common ones are:

1. Functional movement classes – These classes try to replicate real life tasks or sports. In your day to day life, you are always pushing or lifting something. They make you practice these movements with different exercises.

Here’s a visual explanation of functional movement classes:

2. WOD’s – also known as workout of the day. This workout style is intense. You’ll have to do a certain amount of repetitions for a certain exercise as fast as you can for a given time limit.

Here’s an example:

Can You Train At Home?

While the main idea of doing Crossfit is to do it in a group ,so you get motivated by other people, you can hack this “rule”.

The short answer is YES. But what are the pros and the cons of doing it at home?

Pros:

You decide the time and place – self explanatory. No one’s waiting for you. No one’s setting the time and place besides you.

You are familiar with the place – doing it in the comfort of your home might be what you are looking for. I’ve seen many people that can’t integrate into big groups so they prefer to do it by themselves.

Cons:

You don’t get motivated by no one – this is one of the main reasons why people doing Crossfit, are so entrenched into it. They just love the support of other people. Hearing people cheering for you might make you push harder!

You don’t get corrected/checked – unless you are training with a partner at home, nobody’s going to check your exercise form. If you use weights, the danger of getting injured depends on your training level.

You have to buy equipment – you probably don’t have any equipment. You’ll need to buy it yourself. Anything from bumper plates, medicine balls, squat racks, dumbbels, kettlebells. And believe me, it’s not cheap.

I put up a PDF with the most popular beginner to intermediate/advanced Crossfit workouts. Here’s a sample workout that you can do at home right now:

Body-weight Gone Bad

Record total reps.

  • 3 rounds:
  • 1 min air squats
  • 1 min push ups
  • 1 min sit ups
  • 1 min burpees
  • 1 min jumping jacks
  • 1 min REST

If you want to see if there’s a gym around the area where you live, check out http://map.crossfit.com/

Can Crossfit Build Muscle?

Building muscle required progressive overload over time. This is why there’s something weird when you look at lean people doing Crossfit.

You can see girls that are more jacked than guys if the guys were not big to begin with. Trust me, they usually, aren’t. This is a common flaw is many Crossfit classes. Why is that so?

If you go to a Crossfit class, and the weights are all the same for everyone, think about the training effect men and women experience.

If the deadlift is set to 100 pounds, a woman can grow muscle mass with that weight because it will be a good enough stimulus for her muscles to grow. When you look at the guy doing the circuit, that 100-pound weight can feel just like a warm-up weight.

The woman will get a better training stimulus compared to the man. The girl will put some muscle mass, but the guy will most likely increase his workout capacity.

This doesn’t mean that every class is like that. Just take a look at this video:

As you can see, there are also classes that take into account the strength difference between genders. The guys seem pretty strong to me. They are effectively combining strength training with endurance. So, is CrossFit worth it?

The bottom line is this: If you are looking to get as much muscle as you can, and be fit, don’t mix strength with endurance. Just do strength training in a gym, and if you want conditioning, get out, and do some.

Can Crossfit Cause Overtraining?

Part of why I don’t like Crossfit is their lack of specific programming. What I mean by that is that most programs are not tailored after your individual workout capacity. They will grind you until you hit the ground, and can do no more.

That’s not a healthy way to exercise in my opinion. You can get hurt if you exaggerate. I’ll list just two cases:

  • A navy wrestler named Mikamba got permanent disability after a workout of the day. He received $300.000 dollars from a local CrossFit Gym for the injuries he sustained for that workout. He suffered from a condition called rhabdomyolysis which is a condition that damaged his muscle tissue and released it into his bloodstream. This condition can lead to kidney failure.
  • And another one was in January 2011 when 13 football players were hospitalized after the same muscle syndrome named rhabdomyolysis which can occur when muscle tissue is destroyed at an increased rate. The workout they did was similar to a Crossfit style workout.

The bottom line is that it all depends on your workout capacity. Do grinding workouts over a long period of time without any considerable break, and you’ll definitely get overtrain symptoms easier on Crossfit style of workout compared to a more conventional approach.

Is Crossfit Dangerous?

You can get injured in any kind of sport you do. That’s the sad reality. It all depends on how you use your head when you train. But in my opinion, it is more dangerous compared to conventional bodybuilding. Why am I saying this?

When you combine it with Olympic lifting, there’s a big potential for form failure. Using technical lifts, and combining them with high repetition training, is a sure recipe for a potential injury. As it seems, research shows that your form gets worse as you reach higher repetition ranges.

This is also a reason why when I do Olympic lifting, I never go to failure. Failure is not an option in my book. Note that, and make it the same in your case.

If you don’t have a competent coach that can spot a potential form break, you can injure yourself. It’s like Crossfit has an in built injury risk mechanism into it. Do too much of something, and the risk of injury gets higher.

As a personal suggestion, if you are tired, I would stay away from highly technical lifts like squats and deadlifts. Form breaks easily when you are tired.

I don’t want to attract hate from people that are doing Crossfit. That was not my point. This is why I will say this: Doing Crossfit does NOT guarantee you will get injured. This type of exercising has a higher risk of injury compared to another type of training program. What’s the bottom line? Is CrossFit dangerous?

You can get easily get injured doing a conventional training program that includes Olympic lifts, if you don’t take care of your form.

You can see people doing retarded stuff like this. It looks just as a time bomb:

is crossfit dangerous

Is Crossfit A Cult?

From what I observed over the course of a few years both on the internet, and in the outside world, I tend to believe that deeming Crossfit as a cult seems a bit exaggerated. People like controversies. People like stories. People like arguing over useless stuff like this. Does it even matter?

I mean, just take a look over a person obsessed with eating clean food. I mean, just clean food. Vegetables, legumes, raw if possible, organic meat, organic everything.

The only time that person is 100% happy, diet wise, is when she knows she’s on the right track with her food intake. In her mind, she knows she’s right about her choice to eat “clean”. Maybe it took her years to study everything about clean eating, good nutrition, micronutrients, and stuff like that.

With the addition of the internet, she searched about clean food and found a bunch of gurus supporting her belief. She kept reading them and got more and more entrenched into that mindset.

I don’t call this a “cult”. I call it a limiting belief. She’s basically limiting her options and creates rigidity in her life. And if by chance she’ll slip, and taste a chocolate, all her world will crumble, and she’ll feel destroyed. This is how you get obsessed. This is why I like flexibility. This is why I am always open minded to everything.

The same can be said about Crossfit. You can find people that really believe deep down that it is the best workout style. Nothing can beat it. Yada, yada.

There was an article on new york times that looked into why are Americans fascinated with extreme sports like CrossFit. In that article, the author presented the hard reality about CrossFit from his own point of view. He basically took a hard look at why CrossFit is in his opinion, an exaggerated sport. Here are just a few of his words:

Is crossfit a cult

is crossfit dangerous

Do you know what happened?

Many people got enraged by his transparent review, and it is said that he had over 800 responses to that article. Most of them were from people that were not agreeing with his view. You can get the same results if you talk bad about paleo dieting, on an online board that’s focused on paleo, and its benefits. This is just an example.

It’s hard changing someone’s belief if that person doesn’t want to do that. So, is Crossfit a cult?

In my opinion, no. There are people that exaggerate a bit when it comes to “protecting” this workout style.

Crossfit Or Bodybuilding?

When I look at a specific type of training from a body composition standpoint, I want to see what will get me better results both short and long term.

I feel like this is not even a fair battle.

You can also find great workouts out there. But most of them don’t have decent progression schemes, periodization, or addressing potential weaker points. While Crossfit can feel like an universal type of training scheme, it is not. I see at least three issues with Crossfit:

  1. Some workouts are dangerously programmed, and stupid. I say this because there workouts that require you to do Olympic lifts in a specific period of time. For example, 30 reps with a specified weight in 50 seconds. This is foolish. The form is the most important factor against injury. This applies even more when it comes to Olympic lifts.
  2. Most Crossfit programs don’t address individual workout capacity, and this can mess people up.
  3. Research shows that if you try to combine strength and endurance, training will negatively impact both of them. This means your endurance and strength gets impaired.

I’ll show you more idiotic stuff, like this guy is doing in the video below (I suggest skipping to 2:00):

I’m just saying this: His form looks retarded. Most people don’t even look like they lift, and everyone is looking at him like that’s some sort of accomplishment.

This is not FIT in my opinion.

In contrast, take a look at some properly done chin-ups. This girl is strong!

giphy

The only people I personally know that do Crossfit, and are BIG, STRONG, and FAST, started bodybuilding at first, and they just added or switched to Crossfit for endurance.

When To Choose Crossfit?

Just think about this little fact for a moment:

Let’s assume we take a strong powerlifter that can deadlift 700 pounds, and introduce him to Crossfit. In a few weeks, his endurance will go up, and he’ll most likely be able to do most circuits.

What about a guy that does it for years?

I can bet he won’t be able to deadlift 700 pounds in just a few weeks.

It all depends on what are your goals.

If you are just looking for a type of workout that is not boring, that will feel hard to finish, and that can challenge you, Crossfit might be the way.

If you want to get as strong as you can get, optimize muscle gaining, and fat loss, then chose a more conventional approach.

Does Crossfit Work For Weight Loss?

If you’ve read my blog a couple of times, you should already know that weight loss is mainly dependent on caloric intake, and physical activity

If you want to lose fat, it can be a good addition to your regular training. If you are currently not doing any kind of weight training, starting with Crossfit can get you to lose fat faster compared to a more conventional training approach. Take note that I said “it can” because it all depends on how you are doing it. The total training time,

For optimal fat loss, and muscle gaining, I would still choose a more conventional approach. You’d better do a proven workout and diet routine that’s flexible, and specifically tailored for you.

If you are still unable to lose all the stubborn body fat, I already wrote a guide on how to lose the stubborn body fat. You can combine this training style with the tips and strategies I suggested here.

Why I Am Not A Fan Of Crossfit

I consider that Olympic moves shouldn’t be performed in very high repetition ranges – Because of exercise related form issues that might appear due to high repetition training fatigue

There’s no individualization to workouts – Everybody has to make a certain workout in a set scheme. They don’t take into account your current fitness status

You train to become jack of all trades, master of none – The main focus of most Crossfit workouts is to exercise from various endurance and strength sports. This doesn’t mixes too well, and you’ll fail to achieve an advanced level in any of them

They promote the false mentality of working hard equals results – If a training program makes you tired, it doesn’t always means that you’ll go forward. Most people on Crossfit are doing workouts of the day (WOD’s), without any specific goals

My Recommendation

From a bodybuilding point of view, if you are looking to get a well rounded, and muscular body, you should stay with a more conventional approach. Most Crossfit gyms don’t really have well programmed workouts, and this can result not just in some muscle groups being overworked, but others getting neglected.

If you are looking to gain muscle mass, it can improve your physique you up to a certain point. Most programs don’t take into account hypertrophy specific repetition ranges, and very few of them make you perform isolation exercises. Not performing isolation exercises is not necessarily a bad thing but personally, I believe that adding a bit of volume to a muscle group through isolation, can give positive results in terms of hypertrophy.

I would never replace conventional training with CrossFit. I lift big weights, I eat a lot, I get lean and muscular with this. If it works, why complicate it?

In summary, you won’t get huge from Crossfit, you won’t get an optimal rate of fat loss with muscle retention, but you can certainly improve your endurance, lose some fat, and maybe build some muscle. It all depends on your training history.

I’m curious, what’s your take on Crossfit? Does Crossfit work? Are you currently doing it, or not? And why?

Let me know in the comment section below!

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