January marks the beginning of the year and the end of lazily eating Doritos while watching Netflix during winter break. People feel the pressure, whether internal or external, to participate in the “New Year, New Me” mantra, and one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to get fit. One trend in the fitness industry that has been gaining popularity, at least partly due to such resolutions, is CrossFit.
CrossFit, Inc., was founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000 in Santa Cruz, Cal., according to its official website. CrossFit workouts integrate high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, plyometrics, gymnastics, girevoy sport, calisthenics and other exercises. CrossFit also has Workouts of the Day (or WODs), which vary every day.
According to Assistant Professor of Exercise Science Lee Everett, CrossFit is popular among military personnel, has a lot of media exposure with its CrossFit games televised and has sponsors such as Reebok behind its brand, all of which contribute to CrossFit’s status. Everett also said the “cult following” CrossFit has can be attributed to the social aspect of it as well.
“When you do the Workouts of the Day, you’re getting in there with 20 people, and everybody’s doing the same thing,” he said. “There’s encouragement, there’s motivation. You might not get that, obviously, if you’re going to a gym by yourself.”
Everett said the WODs make CrossFit unique, but there is a certain risk for novice exercisers.
“From an exercise standpoint, that’s [variation] important for exercise adherence and so forth. From a safety standpoint, though, if you’re not familiar or trained enough in those Olympic lifts that they might use—which there is significant training that goes into that—then that’s where injury rates or so forth can occur.”
Everett said some of the risks of CrossFit include newcomers feeling pressured to keep up with CrossFit veterans. He said the newcomers who do not exercise very much will have a much higher risk of injury than someone who has a healthy exercise lifestyle. He also said that sometimes the WODs will work out similar muscle groups over multiple days without recovery, which increases fatigue and then the risk of injury.
“I would say for intermediate to advanced individuals, it’s a great workout program,” Everett said. “If you’re a novice, it’s something you have to take a conservative approach with until you’ve built up a foundation and a base where you can kind of do more frequent sessions or more of the advanced techniques that they use.”
Everett said that CrossFit has a lot of positive aspects to it. He said if someone is already trained in power lifting or Olympic lifting, then CrossFit is a great exercise program, and the social aspect is a great motivator. While CrossFit offers a variety of workouts, Everett said it will not necessarily help specific goals. He gave the example of a person who wants to run a 5k race. He said CrossFit will not give the person the kind of training he or she needs to perform such a task. He also said that with the training being based on high intensity workouts, people need to think about their specific exercise goals, their personal endurance and their health.
“Depending on the specific individual, there can be more pros than cons or there could be more cons than pros,” Everett said.
The pros outweigh the cons for senior human biology major Sara Zimmerman, who started doing CrossFit in October of 2014. Zimmerman said a friend she raced with told her about CrossFit and said it was a great stress reliever that also helped him with his racing. Zimmerman thought it sounded interesting. After visiting a few CrossFit gyms, she began going to IXF on a regular basis. Besides going to the gym, she also uses an app called Pocket WODS, a free app from iTunes that lets users know what the WOD is on a particular day.
Zimmerman said that after a month she noticed the effects of the workout, such as definition in her arms. Besides the benefits of getting fit, Zimmerman said she loves the environment of IXF.
“With all the people there, it’s like a family,” she said.
Everett said that if people considering starting CrossFit, or any kind of workout, they need to consider their specific goals and have a health screening for any conditions that would affect their workout. As for CrossFit specifically, he said if a person has not exercised ever, he or she should not jump right into it. Instead, he or she should participate in light to moderate exercises. Afterwards, he said, a person should view a CrossFit session to get a sense of what it is like and if he or she can handle it. Zimmerman said a person should also find a gym that will fit him or her best. Everett said to keep in mind that a habit takes 60 days to develop and to remember that exercise, even CrossFit, should be gradual.
“You have to look at health and fitness and exercise as a long process,” he said. “Everybody wants it now—‘I want to lose my 20 pounds today’— but it takes a long period of time, so let’s evaluate things over a long period of time.”