Getting Critical About CrossFit Critics, Part 1

By February 3, 2014 wod No Comments

We all know CrossFit is a wonderful thing. Even for those of you who have just started your new journey into fitness, you’ve already started noticing some of the benefits of CrossFit. It might be that you’re approaching the world a little more confidently after tackling some tough WODs you never thought would be possible. Perhaps you’ve had some people compliment you on the way you look now and have asked you what you’ve changed. Maybe you’ve hopped on the scale (you know, that scale you were supposed to have put in your closet) and discovered you’ve lost a few pounds.

For people who haven’t experienced CrossFit, it’s a horrible frightening thing that’s currently filling up our ERs and overloading our medical system. Welcome to Glassman’s America. Normal, healthy people are walking into CrossFit gyms around the country, getting infected with “rhabdo” (I hear you get it from that dirty equipment they use) and have their joints ripped from their bodies.

Rich Froning (on the right) poses with his CrossFit coach.

Rich Froning (on the right) poses with his CrossFit coach.

Where does this disconnect happen? How do things escalate so quickly from thing-that-saves-people’s-lives to thing-that’s-destroying-the-world? Let’s do a little bit of critical thinking here.

  • Follow the money. A large part of the bad press against CrossFit is generated by the internet and it often comes from three types of people.
    1. People from the “old” fitness world. These people stand to lose money the more popular CrossFit becomes. It’s easier to tear down the new guy than it is to learn from them. The more they can convince people that CrossFit’s a bad thing, the more chance they stand of making money.
    2. Website ad revenue whores. Aside from CrossFit being a popular buzzword nowadays, we are a strong and passionate group who wants to preach the gospel. Call your blog post “Ten Reasons CrossFit Will Kill You” and you’re guaranteed a flood of pissed off CrossFitters coming to your site to read your bile, then angrily posting it on their Facebook pages for other CrossFitters to click on and get angry and repeat the cycle ad infinitum. You don’t even have to do much work – you can just copy & paste from someone else’s article that pissed everyone off last week.
    3. A combination of the two. The old fitness world is out here on the internet too, and when they write blog posts against CrossFit, they get money two ways: from the angry CrossFitters clicking on their pages and from the people who are frightened by the horrors of CrossFit and buy into the old fitness model.
  • A body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. Some of the most virulent articles about CrossFit come from people who either haven’t tried CrossFit or tried it once and gave up. There’s a lot of armchair quarterbacking on the internet and fitness is no exception. There’s a reason “Do you even lift, bro?” has become an internet meme.

Here’s the big problem we’re fighting against: there’s a little bit of truth in there somewhere. All of the bad things you hear about CrossFit have become the current CrossFit stereotype. Fanatical cult-like douchebags with barbed wire bicep tattoos who rip off their shirts at a minutes notice, grabbing too much weight and doing some dumbass movement they made up that eventually injures them just like we thought it would (aka “CrossFitters doing CrossFit”). Gyms run by a coach who got certified the previous weekend, opened up a gym on Monday, doesn’t stress proper form since they don’t know what that is and gives everybody rhabdo and shoulder injuries.

Stereotypes, as bad as they may be, generally have some small basis in fact. Think of racial stereotypes. It’s conceivable that somewhere in this country are an African American who loves fried chicken, an Asian American who’s really smart, a Mexican American who’s lazy and a European American who’s entitled. But just because these four people have these traits doesn’t mean everyone who shares their race has those same traits – that’s where stereotypes immediately devolve into racism. Hell, I’m smart, I love friend chicken and I’m lazy, so I must be one hell of a mutt.

Are there bad CrossFit gyms out there that are run poorly and injure people? Yes, somewhere out there, that’s bound to be the case. The last time I saw our numbers, I’m pretty sure we had crossed the 10,000 affiliate mark – just like there’s no way they’re all bad, there’s also no way they’re all perfect.

Are there douchebags in CrossFit? Sure there are, somewhere. Again, just the sheer numbers of people doing CrossFit means some of them have to be bad eggs. If every affiliate only had twenty members, that’s 200,000 people. That’s the size of a small town. Think about how many awful people live in your town. It’s a matter of numbers.

The problem lies in painting a group of people in broad strokes. The easiest way to spot this when it happens is hearing a phrase along the lines of “CrossFit does (insert bad thing).” There is no one CrossFit out there. Every affiliate pays some money to use the name, but each affiliate can do whatever it wants to do after that. If I want to pony up the money for an affiliate fee and take my Level 1 so I can teach people that my Foxy Boxing classes are functional movement, I can do that. Granted, I’m taking a risk if I’m anywhere near a regular CrossFit gym and people realize they could be doing something more functional than punching each other with comically oversize boxing gloves while wearing booty shorts, but that’s my prerogative. When you’ve got something as broad and expansive as CrossFit, you can’t tie it down to one definition, whether for good or bad.

This is a huge subject that I could go on and on about forever, and I’ve already forgotten most of what I’ve written since that’s how my brain works. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how to tear apart some of the typical criticisms and how to handle both the people who write them (hint: don’t click, don’t respond) and your friends and relatives who have read these things and fear for your safety.

One of the things I’m going to talk about tomorrow is the reliability of sources, but I just can’t wait until tomorrow to show you this wondrous achievement from the same news report as the lead image:

My sides hurt almost as much as my eyes.

My sides hurt almost as much as my eyes.

Ready for more? Here are links to Part Two and Part Three of the series.

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