The truth about CrossFit
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
Lionel Choong / @lionelchoong
CrossFitter, Co-founder of Innervate Fitness, doesn’t believe in having mirrors in his gym (so he’ll check your form for you, don’t worry)
"Start with perfecting the mechanics, move on to consistently replicating the movement with good form and then you can play with intensity"
Google CrossFit and you will find a million reasons why you shouldn’t do CrossFit. The main reason? CrossFit causes injuries. A lot of injuries. It’s such a widespread, prevalent notion that I have a running joke with a friend who’s a chiropractor about how much money he makes from CrossFit.
CrossFit is essentially a variety of functional movements performed at high intensity with the purpose of helping people move better. Functional movements are natural, organic movements that are transferable to everyday life. For instance, deadlifts, when done properly, teach us how to lift heavy objects like cardboard boxes off the ground without hurting our backs. Overhead presses mimic moving an object from your shoulder over your head, like when you place something on a top shelf. Squats help with sitting down and standing up, something that gets increasingly difficult as we get older. Such movements are combined in a workout fashion that is high intensity, which means getting the most amount of work done in a short period of time, approximately 15 minutes.
The truth is that CrossFit doesn’t get people injured; stupidity does. I’m not going to lie; I have gotten injured while doing CrossFit. Most of these injuries occured when I was younger, more naïve and more prideful. I didn’t listen when I was told to slow down during a workout; I didn’t care, until I actually hurt myself. That’s how I injured my rotator cuff and suffered a minor slipped disc. Even now, it still happens sometimes. Time has passed and I’m not as flexible, mobile and strong as I used to be, but there are times I still stupidly think that I am and try to pursue the intensity I had when I was younger, which, of course, results in injuries.
I find it very wrong that the words “slow down” are never used during a high intensity workout. In the realm of high intensity sports, taking it slow is unpopular because it is seen as weak and unsexy. This severely compromises the safety of high intensity sports because of the potential to cause injury. I’m not saying that I don’t love going all out at the highest intensity. I still do it while competing sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t take the time to build my form and movements first. Building the correct form is the first step everyone should take. It’s what coaches should assess and teach before making their students do specific exercises in class, especially at a high intensity level.
For example, I’m not going to let you do weighted squats if you can’t do a bodyweight squat properly. Same principle applies to the kipping pull-up, a pull-up that essentially has you swinging forward, and then translating that swing energy into momentum that drives your chest to the bar, also known as one of the movements that has made CrossFit infamous for all the injuries it supposedly causes. A lot of people injure their shoulders while doing kipping pull-ups because they didn’t have the initial strength and technique to do a straight pull-up to begin with. They see a guy do it on social media, think it looks cool, try doing it and get seriously injured. My general rule of thumb? You should be able to do five straight pull-ups before you attempt the kipping pull-up.
"I find it very wrong that the words “slow down” are never used during a high intensity workout. Taking it slow is unpopular because it is seen as weak and unsexy."
Safety in CrossFit a two-way street. Some clients are impatient and want to push harder even though they aren’t at that level yet. My gym has received comments and reviews saying that their workout wasn’t intense enough because the trainer didn’t pile on enough weight or they were asked to slow down. We try to tell them, there’s a time and place for the intensity you’re chasing, but today is not that day. You are not there yet. Whether we are a CrossFit coach or athlete, we have to remember: start with perfecting the mechanics, move on to consistently replicating the movement with good form and then you can play with intensity. People always mess this order up. This is the CrossFit philosophy, what the founders believed in when it was first established. It’s a philosophy that shouldn’t result in all these injuries that people associate us with. It’s a philosophy that got lost, somehow, somewhere, along the way.
HOW TO DO CROSSFIT SAFELY
Build your form of every movement, and ensure you are able to repeat this movement with good form consistently before upping the intensity. Don’t do a weighted squat if you can’t do a bodyweight squat, and don’t try a kipping pull-up if you can’t do a straight pull-up properly