BloombergBusinessweek, in a story headlined: “Is CrossFit Dangerous?“:
CrossFit Inc. doesn’t just want to make people fit. It wants to be fitness. A reputation for injuries, accurate or not, stands in the way of that.
The next in an ongoing series of unrelated posts that have long been drafts and which I’m finally getting around to sharing…
I occasionally get emails from folks who come across my 2009 post about my interest in the Crossfit training philosophy. So I wanted to follow up with some updated thoughts on fitness, as I’ve moved on from this particular kind of workout and now adhere to a more traditional strength training program.
As I wrote back then, I found Crossfit to be appealing for many reasons: It’s fun and different, it’s an extremely difficult workout, it offers variety, etc.
But over time, I found that what I liked most was the focus on fundamental exercises like the deadlift, the bench press, the press, pushups, pullups and — most of all — the king of all strength training exercises, the squat. These are old-school exercises that are too often overlooked in today’s modern gyms.
For all of my interest in Crossfit, however, I noticed that these routines were helping me refine my fitness broadly — but that due to the variation of Crossfit workouts, I wasn’t paying enough attention these most important exercises consistently enough to improve my strength much.
Then I came across a book called Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training. I recommend it enthusiastically. It’s the best fitness book I’ve ever read.
The authors, Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore, take a practical, scientific, thorough, no-nonsense approach based on their decades of strength training experience. To sum up the book’s basic principles:
My experience is that these core lifts, if done with sufficient weight and effort and consistency, deliver a superior overall workout than merely running or other “cardio” workouts or Crossfit-style high-intensity interval training/weight lifting/calisthenics.
Moreover, because you must keep track of the weight you’re lifting, you’re inspired to keep improving and moving toward your goals. I especially like the focus on the squat, because that particular lift is so demanding, from a muscular and psychological perspective.
I will leave you with first paragraph of the book’s introduction, which conveys Starting Strength‘s overall philosophy — and deadpan style:
Physical strength is the most important thing in life. This is true whether we want it to be or not. As humanity has developed throughout history, physical strength has become less critical to our daily existence, but no less important to our lives. Our strength, more than any other thing we possess, still determines the quality and the quantity of our time here in these bodies. Whereas previously our physical strength determined how much food we ate and how warm and dry we stayed, it now merely determines how well we function in these new surroundings we have crafted for ourselves as our culture has accumulated. But we are still animals – our physical existence is, in the final analysis, the only one that actually matters. A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence. It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.
Update 2 — September 22, 2011: I have recently started doing Crossfit workouts again. I switched to conventional strength training (see update below) for a while, but have now returned to Crossfit’s more intensive calisthenics workouts. I’m finding that cycling between the two is beneficial.
Update: this post is from 2009. For my more recent thoughts on fitness, see this April 2011 post.
What is Crossfit?
Crossfit is a fitness philosophy that incorporates calisthenics, running, jumping, and weight lifting done at high intensity, usually for short periods of time.
I also like this description, also from the Crossfit site. It’s called “World-Class Fitness in 100 Words:
Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.
Why I like Crossfit
I really like Crossfit workouts. Here’s why:
A word about pull-ups: Crossfit philosophy advocates kipping pull-ups, which are different than standard, dead-hang pull-ups. In a kipping pull-up, you swing your body and drive your hips upward, using your entire body to raise your chin over the bar. This can be difficult to learn, but the idea is that you can do more pull-ups in less time this way, and thus work your muscles more intensely than you can with dead-hang pull-ups. A couple of good kipping tutorials can be found on YouTube here and here.
A few of my favorite Crossfit workouts
So what’s a Crossfit workout look like? Here are a few of my favorite routines. You’ll see that compared to the workouts posted on the Crossfit main page, these tend to avoid olymypic-style weightlifting.
Criticism of Crossfit
It’s worth nothing that Crossfit is not without its critics. Some people point out that some of the exercises, if done incorrectly, are dangerous. That’s true. If you’re learning new movements, like the squat, ask a trainer or someone knowledgeable to help you.
Some people also argue that the Crossfit community is unfairly dismissive of conventional gym-goers, and that some of those who undertake Crossfit training seem to…well, take themselves too seriously. I think this is also true.
Here’s an overview of Crossfit’s unique culture from the New York Times. Worth a read.
Do you Crossfit? If so, why do you like it? Leave a comment below. Not a fan? Tell me why. Good Crossfit workout suggestions? I’m all ears.
Yesterday my friends S and J and I participated in the 10th annual Banyan Tree vertical marathon here in Bangkok. The rules of the contest were as follows:
1. Sprint up the stairs to the top of the 61-floor hotel.
2. Go as fast as you can.
3. There is no rule three. Just run!
And I did just that. More or less. I ran up the first 10 floors and then I realized that there was no way in hell that I could maintain that pace for 51 more floors. So the rest of my ascent amounted to light jogging and brisk walking. But I didn’t stop.
I made it to the top in 11 minutes and 23 seconds, which was good enough for 184th place out of 513 participants. I finished 79th out of 159 in my category (men between the ages of 26 and 39). Here are the official results. The winning racer made it up in 6:19!
I was happy with my showing, given the fact that I didn’t train for the event. S and J, who also went in blind, did really well — they each managed top-15 finishes in their categories. (We ran separately.)
The race concluded at the Banyan Tree’s aptly-named rooftop bar, Vertigo, pictured above. Considering that it was 8 a.m., and given the state of our cardiovascular systems, we had water, not cocktails, to celebrate finishing. And then we took the elevator down.