CrossFit War: Hate the Player or the Game?

June 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Don’t hate CrossFit, hate the CrossFitter– or something like that. I know I’m late to the volcanic eruption Erin Simmons initiated. If you didn’t read her opinion article about why CrossFit isn’t for her HERE it is. Erin Simmons is a former track athlete, fitness enthusiast, and aspiring fitness model with a bangin’ bod. She doesn’t need CrossFit, whatever she is doing is working just fine for her.

At first glance, her article complemented my beliefs about CrossFit culture: unsafe workouts, rushed training program, and cultish. A Physical Therapist friend of mine lead me to Erin’s article, and like many that came before hers, I agreed. unnamedAs a Pilates instructor, I see people drag their feet into classes because their PT told them Reformer Pilates was the next step to recovery. The next step to getting them back to putting their balls to the walls doing the very thing that injured them in the first place. Going along with the article, I lamented: people getting injured in CrossFit will keep me and my PT friend in good work for a long time coming. This was a gross generalization on my part. Like an adorable Pitbull you cannot ignore, the rebuttal came from the CrossFit side.

Same FB thread, same circle of HS friends, an Army guy based in Europe for the past few years defended his favored fitness regimen. The community he gained through CrossFit in a foreign land should not be condemned. Always the athletic type, CrossFit had allowed him to push past barriers in his own fitness. He took accountability off the coaches, trainers, and organizations and put it back on the user. Pretty much, you can get injured doing ANYTHING. And that’s the truth, Ruth.

Yes, there are bad coaches in the “box” or bad eggs in the basket or whatever bad apple analogy you want to go with. Consider, when you “take up” running on a whim, you don’t have a certified someone coaching your every step. Or you’re doing the squat challenge you got off Pintrest, you don’t have a butt official. If you listen to your body, if you have good body awareness, and are knowledgeable of proper form, you will be just fine with little to no guidance from peers or the internet. Unfortunately, some people are just not born with body awareness. Believe me, if you have not been blessed with natural control, balance, and rhythm all is not lost, but seeking help isn’t a bad thing. CrossFit might not be something you should rush into, unless you find attentive coaches. In this case, avoid all bad apples.

In my limited experience at a “box” there was little to no classic instruction of any kind. The workout is written on the board and everyone does it. It’s like a high school gym class if the students actually gave a shit. The exercises are reminiscent of Olympic training. It’s like an Olympic Phys Ed class. Now, call me crazy, should someone with poor body awareness be lifting anything besides their baby without proper instruction or supervision? Should someone who has never worked out in their lives be working out like an Olympian? Probably not, which is why most “boxes” won’t let you lift in your first session. That doesn’t stop them from throwing you a 25lb weight and telling you to relay sprint across and eroded concrete lot. Even the most athletic body can trip up with the adrenaline of friendly competition and attempting a new feat.

I thought I was going to break my neck. I can do a triple pirouette and balance on five toes with my leg in the air, but navigating potholes in a sprint with 25lb extra junk… feel free to call me a pussy. With every exercise, I kept looking around the room, searching for some instruction. Was I doing this wrong? Was I lifting with my back by mistake? Will I be able to walk the next day? Is there a trick I’m not getting that will take it out of my hip flexors/shoulders/low back?

Okay, CrossFitters, de-ruffle your feathers, please. Admittedly, I have felt the same way in a Pilates class, proving further that it’s not all on CrossFit.  The instructor was pushing the class so hard and so fast that I was muscling through my reps instead of going at my own speed to maintain form. After an hour of being yelled at, I was almost in tears walking out the door. The next day I felt soreness in all the wrong places. These are two examples of the dangers of No Coaching and Bad Coaching.

Some companies will throw just about anyone in the ring to teach/coach/instruct. I landed my first fitness job when I was 20. I was originally hired to teach a Hip Hop Cardio Class. As a white girl and classical dancer, the class didn’t go so well, so they asked me to try kickboxing instead. So I rented a Tae Bo video and copied the workout. Ballerina gone bad ass. Literally, that was my instructor training. I have the former Blockbuster Video to thank for that. Oh and I also had teaching 3 year olds on my resume too. With the kickboxing class going well, my employers asked me to do an Ab Lab, which was perfect because I really loved to work on my own. When the Ab Lab gained popularity, I was asked to incorporate light weights. I’m not proud to say that I did it because I wanted to keep my job, but they shouldn’t have allowed me to teach and lifting. I wasn’t qualified. You can go though a 4 hour training cert online and be accredited, so I’d technically say I had more experience teaching, but it still made me feel uneasy.

Now, after years of teaching and proper Pilates Certifications and others, I’m confinement in my ability to properly train even the most feeble bodied. If I don’t know how to train or modify for an injury, I will always do my homework to get it right. I encourage my clients to listen to their bodies, and pay attention to which muscles are working. I cannot tell you how many times a day I say, “relax your shoulders,” even to the most athletically blessed people. It really needs to be a bumper sticker.TRX-690x645

Clearly, you can get a hard body, or kickstart your regimen after a “hiatus” without coaching, but it never hurts to have someone in your ear telling you to pull your abs in and track your knees. To be honest, if you love CrossFit, I don’t want to see you in my Pilates class. You are not going to be happy there. I want you to stay doing what you love well into your 90s. Can you gain body awareness and athleticism from cross training with Pilates? Yes, it can benefit performance in any sport, but I’m not here on a Pilates agenda.

You owe it to your body’s future be accountable for your needs. Me, I enjoy the constant meticulous instruction of yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, HIIT and other group classes, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t incorporate heavier weights (for future bone density) and more cardio (for heart health). If you enjoy the CrossFit atmosphere, do your thing. P90x, barre classes, marathon running, power lifting can all illicit injuries unless you are honest with yourself, your trainers, and your peers. No one will ever push you beyond your threshold into injury. No one wants to see injuries. If you aren’t sure, you should always ask. If you think you are doing it wrong, ask. If there is no one to ask, find a different exercise to do in the meantime and then go ask someone.

Don’t be shy with your health. The CrossFitters aren’t shy about their health, Erin Simmons isn’t shy about her health, and I’m not shy about mine. Do what works for you, but do it right, do it safe, and don’t be shy if you don’t think it’s right for you. It’s a big wide world of fitness and activity, go out there and get some good endorphins, look good naked, and have a blast every time you do it.

****On a side note, I was a little turned off by the heated, malice laced replies that popped up from the CrossFit community like THIS ONE and THIS OTHER ONE. It’s fantastic people are passionate about fitness in our food obsessed culture, however, I didn’t think Erin’s letter was as particularly bashing as her headline. She had a bad experience at CrossFit and it wasn’t for her. I also had a bad experience at CrossFit and it’s not for me either, but I would have liked to see CrossFitters exercise more grace under fire. We get it, injury can happen anywhere doing anything. Bottom line: Whatever you are doing, do it properly and encourage the same of the others around you. I wished that would have hit that harder instead of heated defense.

****Always welcome to take Pilates at HIP Studio in Hermosa Beach, CA. Every trainer will give you an intense workout, with impeccable instruction. I’ve searched far and wide to find a good home. If the CrossFitters are going to promote their “boxes” I’ve got no shame in promoting the studio I love.

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