7 Myths About CrossFit That are Flat Out Wrong

For far too long I've heard people misrepresent CrossFit as a jocks-only club for crazy people that just throw around kettlebells, do muscle-ups, and half-assed versions of olympic lifting. I've had well-respected colleagues scoff at it as a patient(injury)-generating machine, and have had patients assume they'd never be able to do anything "as intense" as CrossFit. 

Honestly...I even had some of these misconceptions myself. 

But since when did it become OK to have literally zero experience with something and be so against it? My mom used to always tell me "try it, you'll like it". That was usually in reference to green vegetables, but the wisdom is still rooted in there:

Don't trash something you don't have any experience with.

With the gentle nudging of a few good colleagues (shout out to Mitch Babcock at FitnessTx.Physio & CrossFit Tuebor West), I decided to stop making judgments without first giving CrossFit a try. And so I tried. And my eyes have been opened. 

Instead of letting these myths and misconceptions go on, I thought I'd put together a list of 7 of the most common phrases I've heard and try to address each one appropriately.

It's time to stop with the myths, and get on with the truth! Enjoy...

(Full article below infographic)

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(1) You'll Get Hurt

If you’re “into” the sport of CrossFit, you’ll probably get injured a lot, right? After all, it’s easy to understand how dangerous throwing barbells up the air and swinging your chin all over the place by the pullup bar could be...

EXCEPT...when you really look at some evidence (like, information that objectively looks at injury data across different sports. See: this article in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation or this blog post that outlines the injury rates between several kinds of sports), you will learn that participating in CrossFit probably poses no more injury risk than running or being a part of that pick-up basketball league at the local gym with your church buddies. Dr. Zach Long of The Barbell Physio does an incredible job laying out the research on CrossFit injuries in this article (which you should definitely check out and read).

And look, injuries happen when we move. But I'll take my chances, considering that an inactive lifestyle leads to:

  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Heart Disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • the list goes on and on...
It's quite clear these days that the the most dangerous thing you can do is:
to NOT be active

to live a sedentary lifestyle.

So let's put that phrase to rest, shall we?


(2) It's Too Hard For You

The amazing thing about CrossFit is that it is scalable.

That means that every single movement can be modified to fit your fitness level. And I really mean ANY FITNESS LEVEL. The beautify of CrossFit programming is that the founder’s definition of “constantly varied functional movements performed at a high intensity” is a completely relative statement that can fit anybody, anywhere. Here’s an example…  in the gym I go to (quick shoutout to the incredible team at CrossFit ReviveR in Rochester Hills, Michigan!), it’s not uncommon to have a prescribed movement be something like Power Snatch. The snatch is an olympic lift that requires the athlete to pull a loaded (or unloaded) bar from the floor into an overhead position (arms locked with bar overhead), and then stand up straight. It’s hard, and it’s something I suck at. Now that that’s out of the way...it’s extremely common to see this movement scaled all over the place during a workout kind of like this:

  1. 1 or 2 people in class may perform the Power Snatch.

  2. 1 o 2 other classmates may perform a snatch with very little weight, only the bar, or even just a PVC pipe to work on form.

  3. Another 4 or 5 may instead do a heavy or moderately heavy deadlift instead.

  4. Another 1 or 2 may opt to do a lighter kettlebell deadlift

  5. And finally 1 or 2 others may be too exerted by all of the above, and could opt to lay down on the ground and do some bridges/hip thrusts.

The cool thing? Each one of these options would be perfect.

What matters more is the competency of the individual with a particular movement, and that he or she is working at the appropriate/prescribed intensity.

Objectively, there is no movement that is “too hard” for anyone that comes to a class, because a good box is going to have an unlimited amount of scalable movements to meet you where you’re at.


(3) CrossFit "Boxes" Are Only for Meatheads & Young People

This is an outdated and naive stance that a lot of individuals still take for some reason.

Well, it’s time for an update.

CrossFit facilities all over the world welcome & open their doors to any person that is looking to become better versions of themselves. While not all CrossFit affiliates are created equal, there’s probably not as much grunting, screaming, and bros gettin’ swole as you think. My class (admittedly we’re all a little crazy to hit a group WOD at 4:30 a.m.) is made up of a truly fantastic diversity of age and fitness level. Here’s a snapshot of the kind of people in the “bright & early” class: an electrician, a contractor, an engineer (or three), a math teacher, an insurance case manager, a few nurses, an attorney, and a bike shop owner. The age spread on this class is from teenager to 50+. People who still think that young age and high fitness level are required to hang with the CrossFit crowd are just...well...wrong!


(4) Peeing During a WOD Is "Just Normal"

Is it common? Yeah - more than you probably know.

But normal? And should you just accept it?

There is such a huge plethora of misconceptions about “springing a leak” during intense portions of your workout. Chief among them that I have personally heard are that it is something to just deal with, that you should just suck it up and wear a pad, or that “a thousand kegels a day makes it all go away” (actually, studies have shown that only about 50% of women are able to properly contract the pelvic floor muscles in the “kegel way”).

If you’re feeling discouraged, embarrassed, or even complacent about leaking during a workout - please realize that you’re not alone, and that there are actually some FANTASTIC options to help you out. It’s time to take control and do something about it.

For help, find a physical therapist in your area who understands the demands of CrossFit and pelvic floor health. And please, for the love of God, read this great article by the Pelvic Guru herself, Tracy Sher, an absolutely fantastic physical therapist who runs this huge resource of a website.

www.PelvicGuru.com


(5) The Solution to an Injury During CrossFit is to "Just Stop" Doing CrossFit

Let’s face it. America is already full enough of healthcare professionals that prescribe “just stop doing that” as their solution to painful movements. That advice is a bandaid, and probably does more harm than good.

We know that participation in sport, exercise, fitness, etc has an incredibly far-reaching impact. And so “just stopping” removes us from an extremely positive social environment, from the metabolic and cardiovascular benefits of regularly elevating your heart rate, and from the psychological benefits of challenging yourself then overcoming, among other things.

I have worked with countless athletes and average Joes/Janes that benefit much more from scaling back a painful movement, working out the kinks, and then moving back into that same movement stronger and more resilient than before.

Complete avoidance of all painful activities is simply not always the answer.

There are certainly times where rest and stopping an activity is warranted (see: some fractures, illness, or the presence of serious pathology). But there are just too many important variables involved in sport participation to just issue a blanket cease and desist order when an athlete (recreational OR elite!) has pain. 

Some suggestions I usually give to my patients to allow them to still participate:

  • Work with your local CrossFit Physio/Coach co-op to figure out which movements and lifts are just fine, how much pain is OK, and to learn which movements/lifts you should temporarily stay away from (cooperations DO exist out there like this, such as what we have going on at CrossFit ReviveR)
  • Do some cardio instead during class (a.k.a. go to class, spend some time on that assault bike, rowing, running, jumping rope, etc. if loaded movements are bothering you)
  • Ask your coach to help you appropriately scale each movement of that day to better fit your injury status. A basic regression/scaling example of what I mean if you were to have back pain with deadlifts:
    • Heavy deadlifts > Moderate/Light deadlifts > Kettlebell deadlifts > Weighted hip thrust/bridges > Bodyweight-only bridges

Pain and injury do not mean you have to stay away from the gym. In fact, it probably will be better for your overall health if you don't entirely cut out that part of your life!


(6) It's Crazy Expensive

This all depends on what you call “expensive” and what you call a “priority”. Membership to a CrossFit box is definitely more than Planet Fitness. No doubt about it. But if you do a budget audit, I’d imagine many of us (including me!) could find some things we’re paying for that are LESS important than our health & fitness (Starbucks addiction, anyone else?).

If you’ve read anything else of mine, you know that I generally push that you need to MAKE time for exercise and PRIORITIZE your health. It's something we all struggle with, myself certainly included. So I’m not going to say more.

Instead, here’s this list of “average” monthly budget items in America:

  1. The average American car payment is $493/month.

  2. The average working American spends $80/month on coffee.

  3. The average American family spends over $230/month on restaurants and take-out meals.

So that $80-180/month on improving your health, losing weight, getting stronger, preventing injury, preventing or changing chronic disease, and potentially prolonging life...is it that unreasonable?


(7) CrossFit is a Great Source of Business for Physical  Therapists, Physicians, etc.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, in some way/shape/form: “Oh CrossFit - you know what that is? It’s a great source of business for me!”

But guess what? Times they are a'changin'...

CrossFit has contributed in such a major way to public health, addressing a wide variety of things from the growing tolerance for sedentary lifestyle to chronic disease. And it’s time for healthcare professionals to understand that and give credit where credit is due.

Now, more than ever, patients are starting to call B.S. on the whole “just stop” prescription. They won’t settle for it anymore. And they shouldn’t! As good medical literature continues to grow in favor of conservative options for injuries and pain (physical therapy, exercise) and lean away from invasive and medicine-based options...

-Fellow healthcare providers-

Don’t be a hater. Try it out. Learn something about the movements in CrossFit and the language used, and stop dismissing it as a fad that causes injury and increases your paycheck. If you can’t keep up with those basics, then refer to someone who specializes in this kind of athlete.

-Fellow CrossFit enthusiasts-

See a physical therapist or other healthcare pro that truly understands your sport and its’ demands. Work with a CrossFit Doc who knows his or her stuff...

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