Thoughts on CrossFit


I get a lot of questions about CrossFit, dozens each week: what it is, what it does, and if it’s a good form of workout to take up. So, here’s my take.


CrossFit, along with P90x and others, are the relatively newest crazes, or should I say, branded forms of Crosstraining to hit the exercise world. Circuit Training and the exercises performed in it are nothing new, but the level of intensity, popularity, and devoted culture CrossFit has created is.


Working out hard is great. And, there’s no getting around it CrossFit is a hard workout. Weightlifting, (esp. Olympic-style lifts: squat, deadlift, snatch, clean), pulling, pushing, jumping, swinging, throwing, combined with high repetitions and little rest is intense. The CrossFit website will tell you that. The CrossFit participants will tell you that. With intensity must come caution, or more accurately, if performed in a workout center, be monitored by a fitness professional who can objectively provide an assessment of individual capabilities, limitations, and appropriately implement basic exercise principles such as Progression and Variation. A ‘Just do it’ attitude doesn’t wash well for the human body and instructing clients without addressing such concerns and strategies is a recipe for disaster. So, in this ‘balls-to-the-wall’ environment, knowing when to tell people to put on the brakes is imperative. As my colleague Chris Chilelli puts it: CrossFit is the latest entrant into a long line of exercise philosophies that are big on rules and programs but short on basic anatomy.”


As with any craft that is taught, it always comes down to the quality of the instructor for client success and safety. And, the purpose of this post is not to bash the Crossfit enterprise or its trainers. It has been an ingenious marketing enterprise that has gotten many otherwise sedentary people into the exercise mode, created a ton of franchises, and employed a lot of fitness instructors. All good. And, incorporating bodyweight exercises, minimalist pieces of equipment, fundamental human movements like jumping and agility, combined with the camaraderie of the group exercise challenge environment is fantastic. So Primal even a Caveman would love it! In fact, CrossFit is described by most of its enthusiasts as a culture rather than an exercise class. I have watched and participated in my share of classes and the support the participants give each other is awesome. My concerns and the potential problems with CrossFit arise when all workouts are full throttle with a lift more – do more attitude translating into too much too often. Risk increases when intensity is up, speed is up, reps and weight are up, people get tired, and proper form falters. This is when injury happens. We don’t exercise to get injured.


Describing CrossFit


From The CrossFit Website:


“CrossFit is a fitness regimen developed by Coach Greg Glassman over several decades. He was the first person in history to define fitness in a meaningful, measurable way.”


“We offer the world's most useful definition of fitness: increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.”


“CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains. They are Cardiovascular and Respiratory endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy.”


“They move the largest loads the longest distances so they are ideal for maximizing the amount of work done in the shortest time.”


“By employing a constantly varied approach to training, these functional movements at maximum intensity lead to dramatic gains in fitness. Intensity is essential for results and is measurable as work/time.”


“There is a compelling tendency among novices developing any skill or art, whether learning to play the violin, write poetry, or compete in gymnastics, to quickly move past the fundamentals and on to more elaborate, more sophisticated movements, skills, or techniques.”


“We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs.”


“The magic is in the movements.”


“Rarely do trainers really nitpick the mechanics of fundamental movements.”


“CrossFit trainers have the tools to be the best trainers on earth.”


1) These broad claims and serious statements; some ambiguous, some vague, and some trivial all at the same time.

2) Greg Glassman is not ‘the first person in history to define fitness in a meaningful, measurable way.To make such a claim is arrogant and insulting to all involved in the fitness industry.

3) There are far more than ‘10 recognized fitness domains.’ What is a fitness ‘domain’ anyway?

4) ‘Movements at maximum intensity’, and ‘Intensity is essential for results’, are nonsense and do not bode well for Progression and Variation. Maximum Intensity should certainly not be part of every single workout.






It’s Not How Many or How Much, but Ultimately How Well


Two of the most important and essential tactics in any exercise regime are Progression and Variation. They must become integral tools in your workout arsenal, not only to prevent boredom or burnout, but to prevent injury.CrossFit, and other popular workout schemes like bootcamps, rely on training to excessive exhaustion and failure, thereby creating an artificial perception of effectiveness.4  Problems arise when CrossFit athletes and their trainers simply don’t know when, or choose not to pull the plug.


Regularly pushing your body to failure can lead to serious health risks beyond dehydration to include tendonitis, cartilage degeneration, disc degeneration, and rhabdomyolysis, a kidney condition most commonly induced by excessive exercise occurs when muscle breaks down and myoglobin, the byproduct of muscle fibers, is released into the blood stream, essentially clogging up the kidneys and poisoning them.


Looking at the Fitness Pyramid just above, high intensity type exercise should be performed least often. You simply cannot exercise at high intensity everytime you workout.

Demanding the most of your cardiovascular, cardio respiratory, and cardiopulmonary systems too often creates a situation of internal inflammation within the body. Markers such as C- reactive protein, when they are elevated for extended periods of time can cause serious problems. Recovery, Rest, and Variation are just as important as the workout itself.



Just because pain does not happen during a workout does not mean the cumulative effects of lifting too much too often around the same movement pattern is not promoting degradation to fail further down the road. The straw that broke the camel’s back analogy holds true with exercise. Many people are surprised to find a back ‘go out’ from bending over in the kitchen when all along appropriate fitness methodology has been ignored. Maximum demand of muscle, joint, cartilage, tendon, and other moving parts is happening at high intensity, that's a given. Pound away at them to hard too often and you are going to get injured during the workout or away from it. Olympic-style lifting leads little margin for error and form suffers when intensity and endurance are coupled and fatigue sets in.

Exercise Selection

Should everyone be doing a deadlift? 150 of them within a workout? Does a Kipping Pullup up translate to strength of a Pullup? Should everyone be doing a box jump?

The Education: Training the Trainers and Lack of Instructor Biomechanical Knowledge
Exercise is more than sweat, heart rate, and lifting some weights. The science of force application and human mechanics must be considered when training the body; more so when you’re being paid to do it. It is the job of a fitness professional to understand joint mechanics, human structure and function before instructing others to add force and exercise. It's one thing to be a coach or cheerleader, but as with most trainers in the fitness industry, Crossfit instructors receive little in the way of basic knowledge of the human sciences.There is no license, no standards, or regulating body, and maybe there shouldn’t be (whole other topic).


A glance at the education/courses, and certification processes on the CrossFit website:

“The Level 1 is an introductory level education on the fundamental principles and movements of CrossFit. It is structured to meet two goals":

- "Provide attendees the knowledge to better use CrossFit methods for themselves."

- "Provide attendees an initial and foundational education to begin training others using CrossFit.


CrossFit level 1 trainers are certified after completing a two-day seminar and 50-multiple-choice-question exam. The 2-day, $1000 certification process to become a CrossFit Trainer can in no way educate someone well enough to instruct the mechanics involved and potential risks associated with this type of workout. Human Anatomy, Kinesiology, Biomechanics, and Principles of Force Application (the fundamentals harped about on their site) are dismissed in favor of exercises, workouts, motivation, and intensity. Exercise Science and the studies of force application must be learned, studied and examined, over many years, not a weekend.


Exercise if a lifelong endeavor. Vary your exercise, progress it appropriately, and most of all have fun and don’t get injured.


-Leavitt July 2013



RTS The Resistance Training Specialist; Science Manual, discussions on Strategic Variation & Progression 


C-Reactive Protein




“I love CrossFit, but people do get injured. Either they don’t have their forms locked in, or they’re going too hard for too long, but injuries do occur.” –Mark Sisson