Crossfit Stockholm Syndrome, Do You Have It?
By Brian Vernetti
Back in 2008, my Fire Academy used Crossfit as a hybrid to help get us in shape. They didn’t use the “Crossfit” name lest they be subject to paying the affiliation costs- regardless, my lead PT instructor Steve had my academy class perform countless burpees and other similar HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) exercises that one may now associate with Crossfit.
From that point on I wanted to be a Crossfit instructor, whatever that meant. After we graduated, I went up to Steve and asked what I could do to be a Crossfit instructor. He kindly told me to skip the Crossfit certification and get a real personal training certificate. Wait, what? What did he mean? After all, he never openly said that we were doing “Crossfit workouts,” but just wore a black Crossfit hoody with a burning skull on the back. I associated that skull with the pain I felt during his workouts. I figured with the workouts that we went through it was the end-all be-all. Little did I know, I was terribly mistaken. He only used some of the Crossfit training modalities during academy. His outside research other other training credentials were able to aid in a well-rounded PT program, that we thoroughly regretted 2-3 times a day during the six month academy.
Fast forward two years, hundreds of exercise sessions later, plenty of academic reading and an ACSM Personal Training certification, Steve was 100% right. The Crossfit training method is something that can be highly effective but it often negates the medical and personal training side of things; perhaps two of the most important aspects of exercise. Don’t forget about Crossfit's renowned reputation for high repetitions with heavy weights and advanced movements.
Since its founding in 2000, Crossfit has become an international phenomenon. It has gained popularity by touting highly difficult and advanced workouts that emphasize the nitty gritty side of exercise. The elite athletes, both male and female, are physical specimens able to push themselves beyond what is expected for any exercise regimen up to this point in fitness history. The workout difficulty and group atmosphere is quite a fantastic marketing campaign. If you struggle with the workout, you struggle with the rest of your fraternity/sorority. So what is not to like?
With such a surge in Crossfit memberships across the country in the past 18 years, the upper echelon of Crossfit (mainly Greg Glasman- who by the way, is a very poor representation of a 100+ million fitness business) have sought after organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association to delegitimize their accreditation processes. Ironically, those PT certifications should be replaced with Crossfit training certifications. Strangely beneficial for the Crossfit corporation. The boost in Crossfit level certifications have narrowed the training modalities down to what Crossfit approves of and doesn’t approve of. This type of in-house credentialing is attempting to streamline the type of training across the world but is simply resulting in a narrow-minded incestuous fitness business.
This close-minded philosophy of training is hard to debate based on the success of the company. However, despite the success, one must begin looking beyond what the public sees during the Crossfit Games or during the Regional competitions. The various Crossfit gyms (Crossfit Box, aka "Box") across the world have continuously prescribed advanced workouts (WODs, Workout of The Day) that the “average Joe” attempts to work at. The workouts are so difficult, that they are often modified to allow for completion by changing the movement patterns, repetitions and weight.
Week after week, newcomers join the local box and are ironically taught advanced lifts such as the snatch and clean and jerk. I have witnessed this with my own eyes when mid-40’s to late 50’s + males and females were being taught the basics of the snatch. As a quick aside- the snatch is an olympic lift that is perhaps the most technically advanced and dynamic lift there is. The participants were willing, but their range of motion, conditioning and everything else were no where close to where is should be to perform this movement. It is not that this lift or similar ones should be absent from the training regimen,they should just be pushed months back to allow for proper physiological and physical adaptation and strengthening. This goes hand-in-hand with medical, metabolic or skeletal issues that are avoided altogether when training programs are compiled. Unfortunately, the physical screening process for Crossfit is often limited or absent altogether. Rare instances across the country will have Physical Therapists or Doctors at their box who are actually working there.
Every Crossfit box has their own workouts they put together, but are often guided by the Crossfit HQ. The workouts that are prescribed by the Crossfit HQ on their website are the “gold standard.” However, when these workouts are dissected may be highly detrimental to the average exercise enthusiast. Emphasis is placed on repetitions, rather than form. Form usually breaks down, but as long as you can complete the workout, that’s all that matters and you get a pat on the back from your fellow buddy. This is true until you can’t move the next day, you get injured or the intensity is simply just too high to sustain for a long-term workout program. Most of this is because your box hasn’t adequately prepared your body for the advanced movements and intensity. Injuries abound in Crossfit not because of the exercises that are prescribed, but how they are prescribed. Much of the exercise programming is formed around a "wow factor" rather than longevity and safety. Take for instance, Brooke Ence (fractured spine), Camille Bazinet (torn labrum) and Julie Foucher (torn achilles) are a few athletes with Crossfit-related injuries. That is just the beginning of the list.
The adoption of such advanced and difficult movements/exercises on a constant basis, with such a high risk of injury, is nothing more than a case of Stockholm syndrome. Crossfitters are embracing the difficulty of workouts without the acknowledgement of their danger. If the danger is present, it is quickly forgotten about because they simply just aren’t physically "fit" enough to perform the prescribed WOD. Forget the one-on-one personal training and medical screenings, that isn’t Crossfit. Forget the countless other exercises that you should be doing to prevent daily pains and flaring medical issues- no, you joined a box to "be apart of something bigger than yourself."
What you really need, is to take a step back, reevaluate your goals and not be wooed by corporate Crossfit. After all, is it truly beneficial to have a 70+ year old or morbidly obese individual attempting to perform a highly modified version of a workout, just to "complete" it- absolutely not. The gross adaptation of Crossfit WODs for the untrained is neglect and absence of a better training program.
Many people need the group training atmosphere, absolutely. However, what many people actually need is training that will work on their weaknesses first and not stick to a workout program that is set from the higher powers of the Crossfit HQ. This would hurt their bottom line and take away business. People are falling in love with the corporation who has taken them hostage and is treating their bodies poorly, rather than provide a solid program that is dedicated to aiding the individual and not the corporation.
Personal training, Physical Therapy, and uniquely crafted programs based upon your own goals/needs should be the driving force of any fitness establishment. Anything else should make you suspicious.
Quality Nutrition = Quality Training
Eating smart not only makes your feel better and exercise more efficiently but aids in a lifestyle that is less prone to disease and other health complications.