Love to Hate: Why CrossFit is Both a Hugely Popular & Frequently Criticized Sport

Jeff Baldelli
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What Makes CrossFit So Popular?

CrossFit is a popular form of exercise that consists of weightlifting, gymnastics, and cardiovascular training all working together to strengthen you in many different ways.

According to data from the CrossFit Journal, 48% of people who participate in CrossFit programs are doing it to lose weight, 39% are getting in shape, and 38% are improving their overall fitness. The data collected from this site illustrates the fact that CrossFit is a generally popular exercise method.

The fact that a lot of people are engaging in CrossFit is a reflection of the mind-body benefits that people are looking for from any form of exercise. People may or may not realize it, but they want to be able to move with greater efficiency, flexibility, and speed in both their occupational and recreational lives.

The fact that CrossFit builds strength through a combination of weightlifting, endurance training, and bodyweight exercises is directly in line with these needs.

Critics Say

While there are a lot of clear benefits of CrossFit, many critics of the sport say that the method is inherently unsafe. CrossFit focuses on a high number of repetitive exercises, and a study carried out at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland found that many of these repetitions can result in delayed onset muscle soreness and joint pain for up to 8 days after the workout.

The CrossFit Tribe: CrossFit Creates an “In Group”, a Sense of Belonging for the Athlete

CrossFitters tend to speak in a unique dialect. They call their workout “WODs”, and they talk about “getting after it”.

Technique often yields to intensity, and impressive strength & endurance gains can be seen within a short time frame. That said, here’s what you need to know about CrossFit.

To provide some background, CrossFit was started by Greg Glassman in Santa Cruz, California. In the 1990s, Glassman had been searching for methods of training that would develop strength, endurance, and overall fitness.

He started his own “box”…a gym—to seek out and create elite athletes. After receiving positive feedback from his peers, he began to expand CrossFit and sought out new gyms and facilities to sell the cross training program.

In 2006, Mac Danzig and Lauren Jenai, the first CrossFit Games champions, were at the top of their game. Glassman began to receive requests from military and police forces wanting to know more about training & exercise to improve their marksmanship. This led to the “P.O.F.” program, or the Performance Optimization Framework.

CrossFit is Driven by Personal Data and Stats

CrossFitters today are very driven by personal stats and how they can improve those stats. Personal data is collected in many forms. These include weight and body fat percentage, whether measured by using a scale and calculator or a fancy piece of body fat measuring equipment, as well as any form of body measurements such as waist, chest, arm and thigh circumference, body fat %, etc.

Likewise, it is almost universally known that the main reason people create a CrossFit account is to benchmark and track their progress. Whether that be in the form of a 10kg pyramid on the snatch, maxing at 500lb deadlift, or their Fran time, all these stats are something that CrossFitters look at regularly to track their own progression.

Frequent Scorekeeping

CrossFit thrives on competition. Perhaps this happens for the same reason as explained in our previous point. Personal stats provide the opportunity for comparison, and when you're comparing yourself to others, it's highly likely that you'll want to compete for a higher rank.

CrossFit does a great job of hitting the psyche of its members. Members psychologically commit to CrossFit workouts just as much as physically. For this constant scorekeeping to work, it must be in people's minds constantly, which CrossFit does very well by frequently posting the leaderboard during classes.

The posting of results is incredibly important as it increases that sense of constant competition for both the individual and the class.

Personal Growth and Health Improvement Support Group

Whether it’s picking up a new hobby or starting your own business, when people make a conscious decision to improve themselves, great things can happen. You become more productive and happier, and you may even become more attractive. But fitness goals also help make you more confident and more successful in other areas of your life.

For years, science has outlined how exercise can help improve overall health. But as you learned here, not all workouts are created equal.

CrossFit combines the best aspects of all types of exercise. It offers high-intensity training, functional training, interval training, and even weightlifting. That means you get all of the health benefits of each while improving your endurance and cardiovascular ability.

It’s also a very social activity. CrossFit creates a community, which helps you stay motivated.

In fact, studies have shown that people who exercise in groups tend to stick with their exercise program over a six-month period more than people who don’t train with a group.

You need each other to keep each other accountable. You rely on each other for support, and the camaraderie keeps everyone rolling along.

Throwing Shade: Why do People Criticize or Hate on CrossFit?

Any exercise program or movement such as weight lifting will always have its people who are for and against it. That is to be expected as people are different, and everyone has a different relationship with their body, with health, and with exercise.

The rise of CrossFit has led to both criticism and praise of the program. Some believe that it isn’t safe, and it’s both too intense and too easy for the effectiveness of the workouts. Other people absolutely adore CrossFit because they have seen it change their strength and endurance, and lives.

The truth is that both of these statements are true. CrossFit is both the best thing ever, and it sucks. It depends on how you look at it. What critics of CrossFit fail to see is that it is designed for people with different goals in mind. I’m not just talking about different ages or around the world, I’m talking about the different reasons why people work out.

People who exercise for health tend to prefer shorter, more moderate workouts or types of exercise. People who exercise as a way to exert their stress or get better at something tend to prefer exercises that are longer in length or are high intensity.

Too Cultish or Cliquish

Whenever a new fitness trend takes off, or a new way of performing exercises hits the mainstream, you’re going to have both fans and critics. Once CrossFit made it into big-box gyms across America, it was inevitable that it would be the subject to a lot of both.

The complaints levied against CrossFit tend to fall into two categories. The first is that CrossFit is too cultish or cliquish. The second is that CrossFit doesn’t offer enough significant benefits.

There is some truth to both of these claims. The Crossfit community is a very close one, and they use this togetherness to encourage people to continue pursuing their fitness goals.

These fitness goals, however, are a little misleading. The commonly touted idea among the Crossfit community that anyone can do CrossFit with only ten or 15 minutes of training per day is a pipe dream.

The intensity of CrossFit workouts is because they build strength and endurance, and this takes time. CrossFitters stay efficient by training together, and they are encouraged by the tougher CrossFitters to push themselves further.

It’s this teaching effect, and the way they push each other to improve, that has made the CrossFit community so cohesive and effective.

People Say it Causes Injuries or is Dangerous

CrossFit is a sport that welcomed its fair share of controversy and criticism since the day it began. The sport comes across as a traumatic, life-threatening mix between The Purge and P90X. If you're a fan, you tend to dismiss the critics and rest your case. If you're not a fan, you dismiss CrossFit on the grounds that it's too expensive and dangerous, because you don't want to become a huge, meat-head monster. Unfortunately, there's more than one way to look at this.

As with some of the other sports we've talked about, CrossFit is an exercise philosophy that is, in reality, quite appealing to people who realize that this is exactly the kind of thing they need to do to improve their endurance and overall health. If you have a regular job, most of us know that you don't have the time for hours of training every day.

On the one hand, you could look at CrossFit as being an extremely effective form of short-burst interval training. What you would find is that the program is designed for one obvious reason: to help you build muscle and strength as quickly as possible. There are several exercises you can do in the gym for an hour to help you with your running; however, it takes people weeks to build muscle.