Friday, August 1, 2014

Some thoughts on improving Crossfit

I'm sure the title of this will raise some eyebrows, and possibly roll some eyes.

You can't even whisper the word Crossfit these days without making someone angrier than the Hulk or causing diamond cutter nipples on some chick that's been in a "box" for all of two weeks.

Crossfit doesn't tend to illicit a middle ground in regards to reactions from people.  It's either venom or valentines.  And the fact is, there's reasons for both responses.

For starters, Crossfit is big business now.

Yes, there's your obvious quote of the week from this blog post.  Reebok just made Rich Froning one of their highest paid athletes.  On par with the likes of NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL athletes.

Think about that for a minute the next time you talk about how no one can make money in powerlifting.  In the next 10 years, barring some unforeseen meltdown, Crossfit will be a billion dollar business.  Perhaps in less time than that.

Anytime something garners that kind of recognition, as quickly as Crossfit has, it's not going to be a polished product.  And that's where a lot of the criticism comes from.  Essentially, that there are too many stupid things being done in CF boxes, and even at the Crossfit games.

To be fair, this shouldn't be surprising.

There are over 10,000 Crossfit affiliated gyms in the world.

Ten thousand.

Can you name right off the top of your head, 10....TEN awesome Olympic lifting coaches, then TEN awesome powerlifting coaches, then TEN awesome conditioning coaches, etc so forth and so on?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Yet in virtually ever CF box the following is "practiced".....

Strongman events
Bodyweight movements
Distance movements (running, rowing, etc)
Kettlebell work

That's a LOT of shit to cover.  And one of the primary complaints from the strength community is that CF isn't specialized enough.  Well, if CF is going to be about doing a LOT of shit, then regardless of how much it chaps the ass of the CF community, then the rest of us have to expect them to be "ok" at a LOT of shit.  Not masterful at it.  People that do Olympic lifting only practice and practice and practice and practice.  Multiple times a day, if they are Olympic level athletes, on just perfecting TWO movements.

Really good powerlifters spend years and years and years perfecting their technique on three movements that, at the heart of it all, aren't OVERLY technical (sorry brothers, they really aren't).  Yet it can take a long time to really develop your squat, bench press, and deadlift.

So our expectations shouldn't be that Crossfit peeps are going to be as technically proficient as people that specialize in just a few things.  That's not the scope of what they do, so it shouldn't be expected.  Perhaps some of them do excel in some areas, then not so much in others.  Then when we see the "others" shit they do that looks atrocious, well that's when the pitchforks and mob part come out to set some boxes on fire then tar and feather the CF peeps and coaches for allowing such ugly looking shit to be carried on.

So the complaint that CFers don't specialize really isn't a legitimate complaint because, well....they never said they did.  Or were going to.  They want to do a lot of different shit.  So, we shouldn't expect specialization out of people who openly admit they aren't specializing.  Doesn't seem very fair.

Now that I have the anti-Crossfit people pissed off, let me assure you, I have complaints too.

First off, as I already posted about, the deadlift that got passed at the games was so atrocious it's been shared across the internet eleventy billion times due to the horrific nature of it.  It was a turd blossom of a deadlift the likes of which I've never seen.  And some of the comments defending it were astounding to me.

"She hung in there, and got the lift.  It was her job to get the bar from point A to point B, and she did that."

When I read shit like that, it's hard for me to believe that the person that wrote it was really the fastest swimmer out of the millions of sperm shot out of daddy's sex cannon.  I get that CF people want to defend their brand.  But call a fucking turd a god damn turd when you see it.  It's when CF people DEFEND shit like that, that other people tend to get incensed.

A sport won't and will never improve if the people involved in it cannot be critical of it as well.  That's a fact.
Just because something is allowed in a sport, doesn't mean it should be, or always will be.  Sports and athletics tend to evolve over time based on the invention of materials, and the competitors involved in said sports and athletics.

We're not still running around in fucking leather helmets in the NFL.  And pro teams aren't running the wish-bone as a base offense anymore either.  Things change.  And for good reason.  It's because people involved in those sports realize the need for change, and adapt to what will make the sport better.  If something sucks, either the sport changes, or it dies.  Even if it's just for entertainment, either it evolves, or no one wants to see that shit anymore.

I mean, we could only take so many years of American Gladiators before we finally go "alright fuck, that's enough of dudes in american flag yoga pants and chicks overdosing on primobolan.  What's on ESPN?"

So what, in my opinion - that won't be seen or counted by anyone with any say in the Crossfit community - could CF change in order to make it better?  Or less criticized at least....

  • No more kipping pullups - This is probably the biggest complaint I hear about from people who don't do CF.  And I have to agree.  Kipping pullups are a fucking eye sore to watch.  It's like watching a fish get Rodney King'd on a chin up bar.  It's just....atrocious.  It can't be defended.  The pull up/chin up is a GREAT movement to demonstrate upperbody strength.  After all, you're pulling your body....errr, up.  Seems simple, doesn't it?  Well in CF, they did away with the strength aspect of it by allowing people to essentially kick their body up through the air, and do ZERO pull-ups.  Not only that, like most of the things I'm going to suggest, getting rid of the kipping would make judging easier.  I mean, I see shit counted after a CFer has done 30 or 40 kipping pull ups that don't look like what they were doing when they started the set.  Hanging chins, where you go from full arm extension, to your chin over the bar, without kipping, should replace kipping fish ups...chin-ups, I mean.  
  • No hitcing or ramping on deadlifts - Not after that shit I saw last weekend.  Yes, I know that strongmen are allowed to hitch and ramp.  But CFers aren't strongmen.  And no, they aren't powerlifters either.  However as NOTED, they don't specialize either.  Since they don't, it makes doing hitched and ramped deadlifts far more dangerous for the athletes.  A deadlift without hitching or ramping once again also makes it easier for the judges to make correct calls.  No hitching or ramping, you have to lock it out, your feet can't move out of position once the lift is started.  Just keep it simple for both the athlete, and the judges.
  • No high rep Olympic lifting - When Olympic lifting comes around at the Olympics, the athletes do a max lift in the snatch, and clean and jerk.  Seems simple enough.  But the fact is, the Oly lifts are highly technical.  And when you start asking an athlete to perform them in a high rep manner, then the technique portion goes out the window, and now you're inviting bad shit to happen.  Just have em do a max single in the snatch, clean, power clean, clean and jerk, whatever.  Not who can do a zillion reps in that shit.  
  • Leave the endurance or rep events to movements that are more suited to it - Rope climbing  for example, is fine.  You climb up a rope.  Really simple.  So are box jumps.  You jump up on a box.  Yeah I know, lots of people have torn their achilles doing those but it's impossible to eliminate all danger from every sport.  Unless it just gets really out of control, you're going to have accept some risks.  My point is, if there are going to be endurance or repetition events, there are movements to lend themselves to be more "athlete friendly" in that regard.  Most all bodyweight movements do very well with that.  Once you impose a load onto a movement, then the ball game changes.  It changes a LOT when it's a highly skilled movement that is loaded, and then you ask the athlete to do maximum repetitions with it.  I mean, you can't compare doing barbell curls for max reps with doing max rep snatches.  One is highly technical, and one is not.  If it's a highly technical movement, keep it out of that "rep work" event.  
  • If the demo team can't do it, the athletes shouldn't be doing it either - I saw this on a video, and heard about a few other instances of it.  Essentially, if a member of the "demo team" can't perform what the athletes are going to be asked to do, either get "better" demo team people, or reduce the "load" or "effort" required to complete the task.  It doesn't make sense to me that someone on a team that is supposed to demonstrate for the crowd, can't do so.  I don't understand how that doesn't raise more eyebrows!  "Look, here's our demo team.  Bobby, show the crowd what the competitors will have to do for this next event!"  - Bobby fails - "Wellllll, that really sucks.  Athletes....get ready!"  There should be some change there in some regard.
I realize there will be all sorts of fucking comments, and since this post won't ever be seen by anyone in the Crossfit community that will take it seriously, don't expect your lashing out about it to be taken seriously either.  After all, I am writing about Crossfit after midnight on a Friday night.  


  1. I'd be satisfied if all they did was get rid of kipping pull-ups and olys for reps.....I believe those two things are the most dangerous.

  2. Should have submitted this article to T-nation.

    They seemed to be seriously chasing the CrossFit segment's ample cash stores with a vengeance now....

  3. Hey Paul,

    Normally agree with most of your posts, and I agree with most of this one. I think you make some excellent points but think you miss a few things as well.

    I think Greg Everett nailed it when he identified that most of peoples' issues with CrossFit come from semantics. I think a lot of people are offended that a kipping or butterfly pullup is called a "pullup". Call it a swinging arm wiggle with hip extension and suddenly the issue seems less important. A better example might be with the Barbell snatch. Though CrossFit has improved immensely in the last 5-6 years, Olympic Weightlifters sometimes cringe at Crossfitters snatching. Greg suggested that if they called it a "two handed anyhow" it might offend fewer people.

    My question is this:
    Why is it ok for kettlebell sport to include high rep, moderate weight lifting, but not ok to do the same things with Barbells? Keep in mind that in the first modern Olympic, we didn't have an idea of what the lifts were. Look how much our conception of the snatch and clean/jerk have changed over the years. Hell, making hip contact used to be illegal until like 1968. Is the barbell any less appropriate for high rep work? I'd suggest that it's not. What we need to acknowledge is that the modern snatch and clean have evolved into the best way to move a near 1RM load, one time. If Crossfitters raise their hips a bit more, and focus less on hip contact, is that a worse lift? Probably not in terms of efficiency. They're not being asked to move a 1rm load in most events. They've found the most efficient way to clean or snatch at higher reps. It's a different move for a different competition. When CrossFitters go for 1RM attempts in the Olympic Lifts, they tend to look more like the traditional pattern. Also, let's not bash CrossFit alone for questionable judging. I think we've all seen questionable calls from the myriad of Powerlifting associations. In fact, I think anyone who follows powerlifting can point to at least one "world record" squat that wasn't to proper depth etc.

    Also, your point about all sports being dangerous is spot on. Anyone who lifts knows that weightlifting/resistance training is one of the safest sports. Crossfit? More dangerous. Then again nothing is going to be more dangerous than youth soccer or triathlon in terms of danger. We can't really fault CrossFit for danger when we compare it to field sports or triathlons.

    I think the crux of your article is 100% true. CrossFit needs to change. Luckily it has changed. Just look at the 2009 Women's snatch ladder on youtube. Compare to what is happening now. The sport is getting better. Thoughtful criticisms like yours will continue to push it in the right direction.

    1. Kettlebells are better for high reps because there is no resetting on the ground between reps. Resetting on the ground is where people get lazy and hurried and start pulling from a bad position on high rep olympic lifts.

  4. If these changes were made I may actually respect the sport and watch the games. I do not think I would every participate, but I would watch.