Since CrossFit came onto the fitness scene back in 2000, it has morphed into one of America’s fastest growing sports. The Crossfit Games, now sponsored by Reebok, dole out more than $2 million to top-place finishers each year. More than 12,000 CrossFit gyms operate worldwide. 60 Minutes just ran an exclusive interview with CrossFit’s creator, Greg Glassman. And everyone has something—usually all good or all bad—to say about CrossFit. But all of that media exposure, jibber jabber, YouTube videos, and tyrannical bloggers come with a lot of misconceptions and pure misinformation.
Those misconceptions are especially rampant in those people who have never completed a CrossFit workout, says Kevin Hughes, C.S.C.S, a certified CrossFit coach and owner of FTF Fitness in California. After all, they have nothing else to go off of. Meanwhile, as CrossFit becomes a sort of fitness cult, with people tied to and emotionally invested in their gyms, they often never see CrossFit outside of the scope of their gym’s little corner of the CrossFit community, he says. More misconceptions arise.
To put those myths to bed, we talked with CrossFit trainers, doctors, and gym-goers about the top 10 misconceptions surrounding CrossFit, what it is, and how it can affect your body—both for the good and the bad.
1. If You Do CrossFit, You Don’t Need Any Other Workouts
CrossFit is all about promoting general fitness that carries over into every aspect of your life. But that doesn’t mean you might not need other workouts to hit your specific fitness goals, says Hughes. That’s because the number-one rule of training, called the principle of specificity, still stands: Your workout needs to match your goal. So, if you want to run a marathon, CrossFit can certainly improve your VO2 max, overall strength, and reduce muscular imbalances, but you are still going to need to go on long, tiring 20-mile runs if you ever want to cross the finish line. The same goes for triathlons, basketball competitions, football tournaments, you name in. Many CrossFit gyms even offer other forms of training to supplement your CrossFit workouts.
2. Everyone Gets Seriously Injured
We aren’t going to sugar-coat it—CrossFit-related injuries do happen—and they can occasionally be serious. But they are far from a given, and CrossFit is far from the “most dangerous workout” that some claim it to be. In one Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study, 73.5 percent of regular CrossFit participants reported having sustained some type of injury during training, 7 percent of them requiring surgical treatment. That averaged out to only 3.1 injuries per 1,000 hours of training. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too bad. Study researchers noted that CrossFit injury rates where similar to those seen in Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and gymnastics and lower than those seen in competitive contact sports. “Injury comes from not CrossFit itself. What injures people is not listening to coaches, performing moves incorrectly, or receiving poor coaching,” says Hughes. And, a lot of times, just pushing too hard. “Some people are getting biologically fatigued and doing too much all at once. It has to be something you build up to slowly,” says Wayne Stokes, M.D., director of sports medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center’s Rusk Rehabilitation. “Every individual has to take responsibility for himself. Don’t let ego get in the way,” says Wendy Hurd, P.T., Ph.D., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist with Mayo Clinic and CrossFit participant.
3. It’s All Like the Games
In the last few years, the CrossFit Games have gotten huge. But the CrossFit sport and the CrossFit workout aren’t the same thing. It’s like the difference between the Super Bowl and tossing the football around in the back yard with your friends. “We will do some of same movements in the gym as competitors do during the Games, but some are less complicated or technical, others will be completely different, and some of the moves in the Games we may never touch in the gym,” Hughes says. “The movements in the Games aren’t anything I would prescribe to 99 percent of my members.”
4. It’s a Brand-New Workout
“I was doing CrossFit before CrossFit existed,” says Mike Costello, 59, a Chicago-based CrossFit coach. “One day, several years ago, I was working out and someone in the gym said, ‘oh, you do CrossFit.’ I didn’t know what CrossFit was, but it turned out I was doing a lot of the same stuff.” That’s because CrossFit is, in a nutshell, is a high-intensity workout that combines exercises from weightlifting, gymnastics, agility work, calisthenics, and traditional cardiovascular workouts, Hurd says. All of those have existed for decades. CrossFit fuses them together.
5. It’s Only for Crazy-Fit Folks
“People think that CrossFit is somehow only for athletes or people who are already in shape. It’s only for people who have some masochistic desire to train,” says Russell Berger, head trainer and spokesperson for CrossFit. And while you probably will spot a few of those people in a CrossFit gym, that’s far from the average. You’ll find anyone from young to old and fit to former couch potato, says Costello, who coaches children as young as third grade with CrossFit workouts. “Everything about CrossFit can and should be scaled to that person’s body, fitness, and abilities,” he says.
6. You Can Just Jump Into Any Class
Just because anyone can do CrossFit, it doesn’t mean you should be doing full-blown, super-intense workouts during your first class, Hurd say. The better your base is, the better your results and the lower your risk of injury will be. She recommends starting with an introductory class. Not all gyms offer them, but they are a great way to learn the basics before you start hammering out workouts for time. Usually, they contain a quick overview of CrossFit and guided bodyweight workout. “On-ramp” and “Elements” courses teach you about CrossFit’s fundamental movements and about proper form. Only after completing these should you get into regular classes, she says.
7. It’s the Same Everywhere
CrossFit isn’t a chain. It’s a brand. “Every CrossFit gym is independently owned and operated without intervention from the actual company of CrossFit. Each gym pays a yearly fee to be an affiliate of CrossFit and use the name,” explains exercise physiologist Dan Casey, C.S.C.S., a CrossFit coach at Windy City Strength & Conditioning. Currently, more than 12,000 CrossFit gym affiliates operate worldwide. “This means each individual gym has its own programming, its own coaching style, its own training philosophy.” So, the workout you get in one CrossFit gym can be radically different than what you would experience in another one. Try out gyms to find the best fit for you before you join.
8. You Can’t Go Wrong With Any CrossFit Instructor
Just as CrossFit gyms vary widely, so do the skills that each CrossFit instructor brings to coaching. For example, to earn a CrossFit Level 1 certification, coaches have to take a two-day course and pass an exam covering the principles and movements of CrossFit. “You want someone who has an understanding of human anatomy, exercise science, and can analyze and help you improve your movement patterns,” says Hughes. He recommends looking for an instructor who has either multiple years of experience coaching or who has multiple certifications, both in CrossFit and in other specialty areas, such as personal training or strength and conditioning. When looking for the gym and coach for you, don’t hesitate to ask about their certifications, says Hurd, who also recommends watching coaches in their element before deciding on who you want guiding your workouts. “Ask to observe a class. Is the coach giving people feedback and helping them improve their technique, or just acting as a ‘ra ra’ cheerleader?”
9. It’s Competitive
The Games are competitive, but in the gym, everyone is way more competitive with themselves than they are with everyone else. In fact, the community aspect is probably the best part about CrossFit, Hughes says. It’s what really hooks people on the workouts and turns people into die-hard fans. “It’s a very tight-knit, supportive group. The support system grows from people wanting to see their peers do well,” Casey says. People get excited to see fellow members achieve new personal bests. They cheer each other on, he says.
10. It’s the Ideal Workout for Everyone
Some people don’t like to run. Others don’t like CrossFit. That’s OK. However, the only way you’ll know one way or the other is by trying it. “CrossFit isn’t for everyone, but it can expose you to what is right for you,” Casey says. “CrossFit has allowed many of my current and former clients to be exposed to Olympic Weightlifting, power lifting, Athlete Performance Training, and other disciplines. Because CrossFit training includes so many different training styles in smaller bits, people can figure out what types of training they do enjoy.” After all, the best workout is the one you enjoy doing and will stick with over the long haul.