Is Crossfit the Enemy?

Updated: August 21, 2014


By Nick Barringer

The most polarizing topics known to man might be religion, politics, and…Crossfit. A quick search on the internet and you will quickly realize there are two types of people in the universe; those who love Crossfit and those that hate it. Those that love it will tell you it is a fitness family that one day might cure cancer but, those that hate it will tell you it is a conditioning cult that one day might bring down the free world.

But anytime you have such strong divergent opinions, the truth is usually found somewhere in the center.


To bring everyone up to speed (in case you have been living under a rock) Crossfit is a fitness company founded in 2000 that, according to its founder, Greg Glassman, whose affiliate gyms will gross between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars in 2013. Billions are big numbers in the fitness industry and Crossfit appears to keep growing in both size and influence.

Heck, Crossfit is so influential it was not only able to make Reeboks relevant again it even has the shoe company making paleo friendly bacon!

So you might be thinking, what is so bad about a successful fitness company?


A consensus paper from the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) in 2010 presented concerns about “Extreme Conditioning Programs” (ECPs), which Crossfit was considered, and the increased potential for injury. In response to this paper, Crossfit released a 92 page rebuttal.

Most recently, a Crossfit study at Ohio State University—which was then published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)—reported that 16 percent of the participants dropped out due to injury. Crossfit headquarters and the local affiliate who took part in the study have both stated the injury rate is untrue and filed a lawsuit against the researcher and the NSCA.

So you currently have two of the biggest names in the fitness industry essentially fighting one another over exercising.

shutterstock_195627650The “problem” with Crossfit:

The main concern that non-Crossfit fitness enthusiasts have raised with Crossfit is injury. The fear is pushing oneself until exhaustion could lead to a breakdown in form which could lead to injury and/or breakdown of the muscle to the point of rhabdomyolisis, a dangerous condition that could lead to renal failure and death. The Crossfit/Rhado relationship has been covered a few times in prominent news outlets.

However, there is no data that demonstrates that Crossfit increases your chance of rhabdo any more than any other strenuous training activity. Case in point: the rate of rhabdomyolysis in Active Duty Army from 2004-2006 was 300-400% higher than their civilian counterparts. Even though this may sound alarming, the Army rate was just 7-8 per 10,000 Soldiers versus the civilian rate of 2 per 10,000. I used these dates because, although Crossfit was around, it was not as widely known as the first Crossfit games was not until 2007 so I don’t think one could argue that it was Crossfit driving up the numbers.

I think the real problem so many fitness experts have with Crossfit is not ineffective programing or injuries but rather popularity. Probably going to catch some flak for that statement but if say injuries were the true motivator why are not the same experts going after strongman training since in a review of data on the injury rate for strength sports strongman was 5.5 per 1,000 hours versus Crossfit 3.10 per 1,000 hours? Furthermore, if it truly was a matter of effectiveness why isn’t any of the fitness experts vehemently attacking the shake weight? It is because the number of strongman trainers and shake weight aficionados pales in comparison to an ever increasing number of Crossfiters.

It is worth noting that in 2004 it was reported that 16 percent of Active duty military adults were obese. Although rhabdomylosis is a serious condition and all reasonable precautions should be taken to ensure it is avoided, my question is:

If you could go back in time would you focus on the 0.08% of the population with the incidence of rhabdomylosis or the 16 percent of the population with obesity?

crossfit2The Real Enemy:

As most of you probably know the obesity epidemic mentioned in the 2004 article has not went away and actually has gotten worse as 1 out of 4 adults cannot join the military due to excess body fat. Even more concerning is when excess weight is combined with other issues it is estimated that 75% of all young adults are ineligible for military service and the military is spending 1 billion dollars a year on weight related diseases.

Look, I’m not going to argue about programing or training methodology etc. because I don’t think it matters in this context. What does matters is that childhood obesity has quadrupled the past 30 years and now 70% of obese 5-17 year olds have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

I do not understand why the fitness leaders are arguing about the dangers of one fitness program over another when the real problem is getting people moving in the first place!

Can’t we all just get along:

In my humble opinion the current legal battle going on is ridiculous.

As an observer I see organizations with much more in common than either one would probably admit. More importantly I see areas where each organization could offer assistance to the other.

In terms of exercise science and exercise physiology, Crossfit could learn from the NSCA. In terms of marketing and getting people passionate about fitness the NSCA could learn from Crossfit.

Constructive debate regarding fitness programming is overall beneficial as it makes both sides consider each other’s approach. Sadly, if you do a cursory search of debates over Crossfit you will see that the debates quickly turn to ad hominem attacks. Not constructive at all.

Both sides are guilty of this and it should stop. Poking fun is one thing but why attack one another? Would it really be better if the people doing Crossfit sat on the couch?

The common goal should be to increase fitness regardless of the mechanism.

shutterstock_108603380Closing thoughts:

I’ve never attended a Crossfit certification or been a member of a Crossfit gym. For full disclosure I am actually a card carrying member of the NSCA and have a certification through that organization. I think both organizations have disseminated a lot of great information over the years.

The NSCA being one of the pioneering organizations to get strength and conditioning accepted in the collegiate and professional ranks. Although that might sound silly to some readers it was not too long ago that many sport coaches thought lifting was not beneficial but could be detrimental to athletes causing them to be “muscle bound” and less athletic. One of the members of the NSCA leadership Coach Boyd Epley is actually one of the fathers of the modern strength and conditioning programs that is now the norm at the college and professional levels.

Crossfit has taken experts that were only known in their respective sport specific community and introduced these great minds to the masses. Names like Louie Simmons, Jeff Martone, Mark Rippetoe, Dave Tate, Mike Burgener, and Dr. Kelly Starrett. These gentlemen are some of the top names in their respective fields and Crossfit has made it were the average Joe or Jane can have access to their experience and knowledge. Many times the information is free. That is one area that I don’t think anyone can argue (although I’m sure some will) that Crossfit has set the standard in providing free fitness information. I have already confessed that I have partaken in the guidance of the good Dr. Starrett and was happy with the results.

I get asked my opinion on Crossfit quite often. My opinion is if you are currently exercising and enjoying what you are doing; that is awesome! Hell, even if it is a shake weight!

Some might say working-out to compete at working-out is silly. But in all fairness some could say my hobby of putting on pajamas to get chocked out by other sweaty men is silly. It is all perspective.

Now would the Crossfit and anti-Crossfit camps please stop bickering because the real enemy is advancing




  1. JoeC

    August 21, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Of all of the people I know that do Crossfit, the ones that have been injured have typically been injured when they first start and they are pressured to overdo their training. The same could be said of any training program. You can’t expect to go from the couch to full speed instantly without causing yourself problems.

    PS: Proofreading is your friend. What you say is more credible when spelling and grammar errors are minimized.

  2. Brent

    August 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    My concern with Crossfit is for those who do not have a solid knowledge base in weightlifting technique. To become a certified Crossfit coach/trainer/whatever, one must only take 16 hours of training (and be older than 17). That’s not a lot of training, which undoubtedly leads to all of the poor technique that Crossfitters are mocked for (kipping pullups, horrible squats, etc.). By contrast, I had to spend 100 hours in classroom in order to get my driver’s license, and I was still a horrible driver once I got on the road.
    Ain’t nothing wrong with workin’ out, but it seems that Crossfit is being irresponsible with their clients.

  3. John

    August 22, 2014 at 12:14 am

    Yes obesity in our country is an epidemic, so I agree that something that gets people excited about working out is good. On the other hand, a lot of the movements that are used in Crossfit are what are called Olympic lifts. Things like the squat, power clean, deadlift, etc. are meant to be done with heavy weight at low reps to build explosive power. I’m talking 3 or 4 reps per set, not 20 or 30. Of course your form is going to break down if you do a movement the complete opposite way it was designed to be done. This, I believe, is where the injuries are coming from. Cardio workouts should be cardio workouts and weightlifting should be weightlifting. Trying to combine the two is a recipe for disaster, as evidenced by the high injury rate.

  4. John

    August 27, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Hey John,

    The squat and deadlift are not “Olympic lifts”. The only two lifts in the Olympics are the snatch and clean & jerk.

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