Actually I quit yesterday, but wanted to wait a day to blog about it, as I wanted to give it a day to think about it before writing.
I’ve been doing CrossFit for a little over four months now. Subscribers to this blog have likely read my over-the-top descriptions of my first CrossFit workout and other tales of woe : )
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with CrossFit ever since the moment I started. Actually, even BEFORE I started. I’ll explain why a bit later. I stuck it out for these four months because there is so much I like about it that the parts I don’t appreciate so much were overshadowed. But there is one thing I couldn’t ignore any longer: I just did not feel as well these past four months as I did the months prior when doing an unstructured fitness program of my own. Was I in as good a shape back then? No, in terms of measurable performance. In terms of appearance, the difference was positive but not much. Put it this way – with a shirt on I didn’t look any different except a little ‘puffier’ in the chest. Regardless of the slight bump in upper-body muscle, as I always say to friends/family that ask my opinion about diet and exercise, the best evaluation for whether something truly works for you or not is this great litmus test: “How do you feel?” If your goals are to excel at CrossFit (and make no mistake about it – CrossFit is a sport first, with the fitness regimen being a side-effect), then that’s different from the goals of most people who start a fitness program. They don’t do it to compete. They don’t do it for fun. They do it to feel better and to look good naked. That’s it. Normal people don’t care how much they can clean & jerk.
Looking back, the past four months can best be summed up in this way:
CrossFit is awesome. At least the box I joined is. But injuries sustained from my own stupidity/ego/body have just ruined this experience for me. And some aspects of it are not aligned with my goals, which are just to feel great and look good. It’s just not fun for me.
I know what you’re thinking/about to leave a comment saying. I’ve heard/read it many times regarding CrossFit. It goes something like this:
“If you’re getting injured then you need to find a new box/coaches!!!” Yes, that is true in some cases, but not in mine. A couple of the coaches at the box I was a member of were pretty useless. They did nothing but hang out and yell a “Keep it up guys!” once in a while. They didn’t teach a thing. But most are really good. I learned pretty quickly who to avoid, so that wasn’t the problem. The problem is me. My ego, and my damned pinched nerve, and my goals just didn’t agree with CrossFit. I wasn’t there to be an athlete. I was there to get in shape and feel the best I can be. The former was hampered by constant nagging injuries, and the latter degraded the more/longer I did CrossFit.
I’ve had injuries or soreness since the day I started CrossFit. And when you start doing workouts of that level of intensity, and duration, it wreaks havoc on one’s diet. It’d be easy if I were shoving sugar/carbs down my throat for the majority of my calories. The answer would be to just add more to burn more. But I don’t eat that way, for obvious reasons.
Before I start bashing CrossFit, which is what the following will come off as even if not intended:
I QUIT BECAUSE I WAS CONSTANTLY BATTLING LITTLE NAGGING INJURIES. I would have stuck with it, even if it wasn’t ideal for me. Why stick with something you don’t love? Cus that’s me. I have been very down the last week or so, knowing that I was coming to this decision. I don’t like to quit anything and I’m still conflicted (obviously!) about this decision.
What I Liked About CrossFit
The Social Aspect
People often complain about the monthly cost for a CrossFit membership. I paid, with a 10% veteran’s discount, $135 per month. That was for 3 sessions per week. That is way high compared to the regular gyms. But when you walk into the regular gyms you don’t get free personal training. You don’t have any camaraderie or even friendly people saying hello to you. You don’t get nutrition advice, or an instant social network. Even though I’m in my 40’s, married, bald, and have the personality of a mosquito, as soon as I joined my local CrossFit box I was instantly inundated with happy hour invites, Facebook friend requests, and plain old ‘Hi, my name is XXXXXX!’ introductions whenever I’d see someone new at a WOD.
The social aspect is what makes CrossFit successful, long-term. For some people, like me, this is not all great. During the WOD I didn’t really like the constant “Go! Keep it up! One more Rep! You can do it!” Rah-rah-rah. I specifically stopped going to Team WODs because of it – nothing more annoying than an overzealous dude yelling in your ear to give it more when you’re already giving it all you’ve got. But that’s just me.
The Personal Training is Included
This is the part people don’t understand. I was so weak and inflexible when I first started that every single WOD was a personal training session. Over time, this became embarrassing to me, as sometimes I felt like I was depriving others from getting the help they might have needed. Not sure how to do a lift or want to refine your technique? Just ask the coach. Heck, I usually didn’t need to ask – they’d see how screwed up I was and would just come over and correct me. Not all of the coaches were pro-active in this way though. But most were, and a few were phenomenal, and once I figured out who those folks were I just always went to the sessions they coached.
I could easily, and just might, add this one to the negatives list. But there’s something to be said for the intensity. I don’t care who you are – if you’re in a warehouse full of people all pushing hard to get through the same WOD, you’re going to push harder because of the group dynamic. I will never understand how people could do CrossFit on their own using the CrossFit.com (otherwise known as the “main site”) prescribed WODs. I know I could never keep the intensity up doing it by myself.
What I Hated About CrossFit
I recently read this article and I think the guy absolutely nailed it in terms of the aspects of CrossFit that I didn’t like.
Before someone leaves a comment saying that it’s different at every box – really? No, it’s not. The social aspect is certainly different. The coaches are different. But let’s be honest – there are only so many prescribed movements/lifts. Wall balls at one box are the same at every other. Box jumps. Clean and Jerks. Deadlifts. Running. Etc. What is different from box to box is the people. The people at the box I was a member of are great (mostly). I’ll miss chatting with them. I doubt they’ll miss chatting with me, cus I mostly would just whine about how hard CrossFit was : )
CrossFit is Chronic Cardio
Even before I started CrossFit, one of the things that concerned me was that, no matter how you sliced it, it was chronic cardio. When you have your heart rate pumping to the max for close to an hour at a time*, it doesn’t matter if the formal WOD is just 10 minutes long. At my box, the warm-up was 10 minutes and very high intensity – much higher intensity than any ‘spinning’ or ‘pilates’ class during it’s highest level of intensity. And rarely was I ever able to finish a WOD within 10 minutes. Usually they were a minimum of 15 and often much longer. A number of them (especially the dreaded team-based WODs) were ~45 minutes. And that doesn’t count the warm-up. Since I only did it 3x per week (and often, due to injuries, only 2x per week), the ‘chronic’ effect was mitigated. How these guys do it every day or even the 3-on-1-off protocol that CrossFit recommends, is beyond me.
It’s Weightlifting But It’s Not
One regret I have is not trying the “Westside Barbell” sessions that my box offered. I don’t even know what that is, but I assume it is a more traditional weightlifting approach versus the metcons.
CrossFit teaches and prescribes lots of lifts, but mostly it was high-rep. The focus is on intensity. The problem with that is, in order for me to keep the intensity up, and not injure myself, I had to use very low weight. And you can’t build muscle if you aren’t lifting heavy. I realize heavy is a relative term, but I have no doubt that I would have built more lean muscle had I just done a traditional heavy weight to failure routine 2x per week instead of rounds of high-rep/low-weight AMRAPs. Think about that for a minute: if you have to rip up your muscles in order to initiate adaptation (i.e., build stronger muscle), you have to lift heavy. Every expert will tell you this, especially the ones who I trust like Mark Sisson to Robb Wolf to Mark Rippetoe (incidentally, the latter two are now no longer fans of CrossFit themselves).
The Dudes that Run CrossFit are Creepy
Okay. Does it really matter that Greg Glassman comes off as a creepy used car salesman? Not to mention the dude is fat and out of shape, which doesn’t exactly inspire me. Or that the guy that programs the CrossFit games seems like a douchebag? No, not really. But, I’m just throwing it out there. But you have to admit that the whole “Coach says” thing is borderline cultish. Don’t believe me, ask Robb Wolf. He’s obviously had first-hand experience with CrossFit HQ and got tired of it. .
The All Important Physical Results Aren’t Consistent
Aside from the all-important “How do you feel?” question I led this post off with, there are three other types of results to be concerned with when it comes to CrossFit or any fitness routine:
- How do you look as a result of it?
- How do you perform, outside of the actual activity, as a result of it?
- How do you perform at the activity itself, as a result of it?
Both of these guys are a fail, in my opinion, especially the guy on the right, unless his goal is to be doing WODs for the sake of WODs.
Being Tied to A Schedule
I was a member of one of the biggest boxes around, in terms of members. They had lots of sessions scheduled. Most CrossFit boxes are small and only offer an early morning and evening session or two. Problem is, it is a major time commitment to do a CrossFit session. For me, it was 2 hours, minimum. Say my session was 12pm. I’d have to leave at 11:30 to get there by 11:45, then warm-up on my own so I don’t get pummeled by the formal warm-up, then the session was always a minimum of one hour and often slightly longer, then tack on another 15 mins to cool down (trust me, if you give it your all, you don’t just wipe your brow with a towel and go), followed by a shower, etc. This business about “I get in and get out” is bullshit. The 10 minute workout is a fable. It COULD be true, but not if you include the warm-up, the instruction, and then the post-WOD stretching. Having to pre-schedule myself for a session is a pain in the ass. I have flexible work hours, so it wasn’t the times that were the issue, but the total time commitment. Being able to just go to a globo-gym or to the local park and knock out my workout quickly is a better fit for me.
The Stress, and Effect on Diet and Weight
Those of you who have read much of my blog, or keep up with the latest credible research on diet and fitness, should know that working out often causes you to eat more. In my case, I struggled to keep my weight consistent. I started CrossFit at a svelte 191lbs. Within 3 weeks I was up to 199lbs and shitting bricks that I would break 200lbs. Yes, it might have been mostly muscle (though 8lbs of muscle in 3 weeks is not possible). But it was me subconsciously eating more – I, in effect, “worked up an appetite” from the working out. Four months of CrossFit has resulted in a much more defined chest/shoulders, but a softer middle. I’m down to 193lbs as of today, only because I had to completely cut out sugar for a month. And, unlike before CrossFit where I could eat a fair amount of carbs via an occasional dessert/treat with my kids, once I started CrossFit I really had to struggle to keep my weight down. And don’t give me that bullshit about how the scale lies. A 5’10” man shouldn’t be weighing over 200lbs. Period. My waistline didn’t go down any further during CrossFit either (it’s still at 34″). It didn’t get worse, but didn’t get smaller. I attribute this to the stress (likely in the form of cortisol spikes due to the chronic cardio). The stress from the WODs themselves, to the stress that the nagging soreness/injuries as a result of the WODs.
In The End
CrossFit is great and it sucks all in one. I sincerely hope that I don’t sway anyone away from trying CrossFit – I urge EVERYONE to try it. Especially if your goals are aligned with it, but even if not. It IS fun to survive a hard WOD and then reflect on it. It’s kind of like boot camp. I am a veteran and look back at boot camp fondly. Do I want to be in it perpetually for the rest of my life, as a fitness endeavor? Hell no. But I’m glad I did it. I am really proud that, even though I didn’t like CrossFit all that much from the start, I stuck with it for four months and gave it a fair shot. I loved the idea/theory of CrossFit. I loved telling people how I was pushing myself to the limit and surviving, loved thinking about the goofy shit like tire flips and muscle ups and the like. But in the end, it just wasn’t for me.