Box. WOD. Murph. EMOM. AMRAP. Double unders. Met con. For time.
These are some of the lingo you many encounter within a Crossfit community. But what exactly is Crossfit?
According to Crossfit founder and CEO Greg Glassman, “it is a quantifiable approach to a finally well-defined notion of what fitness is” 1. He founded this fitness movement in 1996 in response to battling physical ailments like diabetes, hypertension etc by incorporating high-intensity functional exercise along with a paleolithic-inspired diet (paleo diet)2. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the fitness aspect pertaining to a Crossfit lifestyle and not the paleo diet. Furthermore, unlike other fitness programs, Glassman describes Crossfit as the “application of the fundamentals of Newtonian mechanics to human movement”.
For someone like myself, a former athlete, lover of weight lifting since I was in my teens, personal trainer and ex body-building competitor, it was a natural progression for me to dabble in Crossfit. I went to my first class in 2012, and since then I intermittently continue to participate in this form of fitness.
What was it that drew me in? For starters, it was the primary focus on strength and performance over physique and appearance that drew me in. I love that there are usually no mirrors. One has to perform movements based on technique and muscle memory. Additionally, I was drawn to the fact that the average member, not all of them Crossfit “athletes”, knew more about training and nutrition than most of the personal trainers I know. While initially I felt intimidated and humbled for the first time in a fitness setting, it was over time a confidence booster. I was lifting more weight than ever before and my muscles were developing better than when I was training for a body building competition. And no I was not worried about looking like a man. This is one of the biggest stereotypes with weight lifting! I am doing what I feel is the point of fitness- to push my body outside of it’s comfort zone and to build strength. Physique became a bi-product.
While many Crossfitters have amazing bodies, for most of them it is their strength and performance that are their main goals, with body appearance often their secondary. My observation over the past 7 years is that new members may come in with the focus of losing weight/gaining muscle etc, but eventually they get sucked in to tracking their strength scores and endurance times.Their values were shifting to one of competition (with others and themselves) over composition. This is not an absolute truth, but a general observation on my part.
“But Crossfit has the highest number of injuries!” are often slandered by many body-builders and those in the non-Crossfit communities. Research, however, shows that this sport is no different from any other high impact sport (e.g. hockey) or activities like running which is often correlated to shin splits and knee issues. In fact, Hak et al published the first paper detailing the injury rates and profiles of Crossfit athletes sustained during routine Crossfit training 3. They collected data from a total of 132 participants, indicating 74% having sustained an injury during training but only 7% needed surgical intervention and no reported cases of rhabdomyolysis (a direct/indirect muscle injury resulting from the death of muscle fibres and release of their contents into the bloodstream, which is quite serious). It should be noted that the injury rate was 3 per 1000 hours of training, and that these reported rates are similar to other sports reported in the literature, including Olympic weight-lifting, power lifting and gymnastics. Furthermore, these rates are actually lower than competitive contact sports such as rugby. Klimek et al also noted similar results when they investigated if injuries are more common with Crossfit than other forms of exercise; with Crossfit having comparable or lower rate of injury in Olympic weight lifting, distance running, track and field, rugby or gymnastics 4.
Similary, Wisenthal et al also investigated the injury rate and patterns among Crossfit athletes by performing a descriptive epidemiology study 5. A total of 486 Crossfit participants enrolled in the study, with 386 meeting the inclusion criteria. The findings indicated an overall injury rate to be 19.4%, with males being injured more frequently than females. The shoulder was the most common injury, which is similar to gymnastics and power lifting. Interestingly, they noted that an increased involvement of the trainers in coaching the participants was correlated with a decrease in injury rates. This is crucial to any form of fitness training- proper coaching.
As with any movement activity, safety first! With Crossfit, one can’t just mindlessly walk into a workout without warming up or learning the techniques before execution. Most boxes offer hour long mobility classes and they start each Crossfit class with stretching movements that often involves bands and other equipment/body movements to encourage this practice. Moreover, unless you have experience, a lot of boxes require that you do a few fundamental classes to learn the basics. Technique and safety are the forerunners for injury prevention. Finding a box that supports this is imperative.
I joined RCFLV (Reeebok Crossfit Liberty Village) as someone with over 15 years in weight lifting yet I needed the 5 fundamental classes required to continue on into a Crossfit class. I initially talked to the head coach at the time about skipping this but then was talked into trying 1 fundamental class. I ended up taking 5 by choice. The attention to detail the coaches provided to make sure we had these fundamentals nailed would like allow us to eventually add speed and weights to our workouts within the set time restrictions. They emphasized the need to move well before implementing these next steps.
Even now with experience in competing in Crossfit competitions and practicing those movements of a regular basis, the coaches at RCFLV won’t hesitate to correct your form even in the middle of a WOD (in a non embarrassing way).
Owner and head Coach of RCFLV, Amy Aldrich-Witt, at first glance is a petite blonde with a sweet smile, and while the latter rains true of her personality, this lady is a beast. She is one of the strongest women I know and a real life inspiration. Anyone who walks into RCFLV is immediately put to ease within a few seconds of her energy. Ladies especially, don’t be afraid to try Crossfit!
Jessy with Coach Amy
Another huge draw in for me is the Crossfit community. I found the environment supportive, friendly and understanding. They pushed you when you needed it, they respected your limitations and they celebrated your wins. In a way it is a clique of people banded together by their desire to push their bodies to the limit within the hour they are at the class, competing with others and themselves as they chased a new PR (personal record).
I have mentioned some already, but now to hone in on the benefits of Crossfit:
- Increase in body strength
- Increase in physical performance
- Increase in speed
- Increase in endurance
- Improvement with health ailments such as diabetes, cardiovascular, bone density, high blood pressure etc.
- Improvement in body composition
- Better sleep quality
- Better overall mental health (self esteem etc)
- Increase in motivation and drive
- Feeling part of a community
- It is a sport that at any age, you can choose to compete
- It’s fun!
If you live or plan to visit Toronto, I highly recommend checking out RCFLV.
You can contact Amy Aldrich-Witt (Owner and Head Coach of RCFLV) :
Coaches of RCFLV
***Disclaimer- before participating in this or any other physical activity, you should consult with your primary care physician or relevant health care practitioner, especially if you have health concerns. This article is meant to share with you , in large part, my opinions on the benefits of Crossfit and even though I have provided evidence-based support, it should not be taken as direct advice.
- Kuhn, S. The Culture of Crossfit: A Lifestyle Prescription for Optimal Health and Fitness. Senior These-Anthropology. 2013; Paper 1 h p://ir.library.illinoisstate.edu/sta/1
- Hak et al. The Nature and Prevalence of Injury during Crossfit Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013: DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000318
- Klimek et al. Are Injuries More Common with Crossfit Training Than Other Forms of Exercise? Journal of Sport Rehabilitation 2017: DOI.org/10.1123/jsr.2016-0040
- Weisenthal et al. Injury Rate and Patterns Among Crossfit Athletes. The Orthapaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. 2014; 2 (4): 1-7.