Over the last few years you may have witnessed London’s choice of CrossFit gyms spreading itself a little thicker across each borough. For the most of us, this is little to become excited about: gruelling high-intensity workouts performed in dingy gyms with metal shutters and bare brick walls. Heavy dumbbells, rusty barbells, and movements which, to the untrained eye, look complicated and impossible enough to be in the circus. Not to mention the stereotype; testosterone junkies huffing over their barbell and steel-faced pocket rockets throwing themselves fearlessly around a pull up bar. For those of us just looking to get fit, lose a few pounds or de-stress, a CrossFit gym is probably the last place we’d be inclined to try.
However, unfortunately for CrossFit, within the UK it is merely very understood. Those that are lucky enough to have discovered it and become involved in its community are relentlessly defending its integrity. Until of course, the slander becomes all too repetitive; they admit defeat and return to religiously and devotedly enjoying it amongst themselves. Perhaps this is why it is so often referred to as a ‘cult’. The Cross fitter vs. the regular gym goer: an us-vs.-them situation.
The majority of the time, this is just down to fear of the unknown. It is hard to make sense of what CrossFit really entails when it holds such an intimidating exterior. If we cast aside these negative connotations, we’d be shown that underneath it is actually just very creative Strength and Conditioning programming.
For those without a sporting background, Strength and Conditioning (or ‘S&C’) is the method of training that sports teams and elite athletes use for performance enhancement and injury prevention. It entails all disciplines of fitness, meaning CrossFit targets strength, power and speed, alongside cardiovascular endurance, stamina and agility with equal priority. In lay-men’s terms: you’ll be doing as much ‘cardio’ as you will ‘weights’. The idea is to develop each discipline of fitness equally, so that you are as strong as you are supple, and as fast as you are consistent.
Greg Glassman, CrossFit founder, described ultimate fitness as ‘being able to deadlift 500 pounds and run a 4-minute mile, all in the same week’.
Now here is where people close the google page on the premise of not caring about how fast they can run, or how much they can deadlift. And quite rightly so, why should we? All most of us would like in repayment of exercise is to feel energised enough to do our favourite things.
The secret to be discovered here is that CrossFit doesn’t have to be taken seriously (cue the confusion- so why are they all so serious about it!?). The extremely efficient, scientifically-backed training concept can be combined with a good social atmosphere to create a fun way to workout.
Chris Gregory, CrossFit 1971 Wimbledon’s head coach explains that 80% of Wimbledon’s members are there to keep fit and to have fun whilst working out- something that is near impossible to do on your own in a commercial gym. The majority are over 30, have kids, work long hours, and enjoy coming to train in the evening for stress relief and to have a good laugh with like-minded people. The social side of CrossFit is just as important as the endorphin release.
To encompass such a wide array of disciplines into one style of training, it has to be high intensity. This means it’s tough, to say the least. A short 8-minute CrossFit workout can have you in a heap on the floor, limbs and lungs on fire. Yet, once you’ve stood up, wiped the sweat off your forehead, and high fived your workout buddy, you realise it was over as quickly as it happened.
Other than being too intimidating, too technical, or just too difficult, the main critique CrossFit receives from the general population is its safety. Lifting too heavy weights too quickly and performing gymnastics movements which put your joints in compromising positions must surely make it a recipe for disaster?
Unlike any sport, or more specifically, any gym exercise, movement performed with poor motor control, or inappropriate loading, speed or volume, has potential to result in an injury. This is why CrossFit holds scaling options for every exercise to make it applicable to any level of fitness.
Would you jump into the deep end of a pool before you could swim? Or throw yourself down a black run before you could ski?
The movements of CrossFit:
These are broken down into the simplest possible forms of human movement: pushing, pulling, pressing, squatting, hinging. Chris Gregory teaches these movements to perfection in his fundamentals classes before progressing his members into more complex movements. The majority of the time, these movements don’t even need to be weighted for the member to get a good full-body workout. It becomes a joint responsibility between coach and member to decide as and when they are ready to progress to the next stage of the movement.
Yes, at Wimbledon physiotherapy we see the occasional injury from CrossFit. Yet equally, we see the same number of injuries from tennis, and from climbing, and from cycling, and from running.But for the most part, the majority of injury comes from lack of any exercise at all. CrossFit is more about moving correctly than it is about creating aesthetically pleasing bodies and raging egos. In a physiotherapist’s opinion, when performed correctly, it can be a fantastic tool to reverse the awfully damaging effects of the hours we spend sat down per day as a population.