Tuesday, October 12, 2010

CrossFit: Not for Beginners?

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel recently ran a feature on CrossFit (along with a nice slideshow). As with most articles written about the "sport of fitness," it's a bit hyperbolic in its description of the workouts:
Drenched in sweat, but with a smile on his face, Angelo Brinson explains why he has turned to CrossFit for his workout routine. He's a North Miami detective and SWAT team member.

"When I get a callout, I don't know if I'm going to be climbing at tree, jumping a wall or sitting in a squat position for hours," says Brinson, 37, of Davie. "This prepares me for all of those possibilities."

If you're interested in trying it out, be warned: It is not for beginners. Workouts include power weight lifting, kettlebells, pull-ups and handstands, all with the goal of pushing yourself to near-exhaustion.
"Not for beginners"? Suitable only for SWAT team members? Not quite.

Part of the problem, I think, is that CrossFit's founder, Greg Glassman, and his staff at "HQ" like to promote the image of CrossFit as super-hardcore. (A typical Glassman quote from a 2005 New York Times article: "[CrossFit] can kill you," he said. "I've always been completely honest about that.") This over-the-top machismo is widely adopted by affiliate owners who puff out their chests in the same way -- and it also ends up turning off (and turning away) those who might have otherwise given CrossFit a shot.

What gets lost in media stories about CrossFit (like this one and this one and this one) is that everyone can do it: You, me -- even out-of-shape grandmothers like Mary Conover and Leola Schell. It may be true that "[t]hose who try CrossFit usually have had prior sports or fitness backgrounds," but folks who have little to no experience with exercise can (and do) successfully start training with CrossFit. 
If you're considering CrossFit, don't let the testosterone-soaked news articles get you down. Yes, the workouts are never less than challenging, but provided you scale appropriately and get proper instruction, they're totally doable.

Still, it's not as simple as suddenly throwing yourself into CrossFit workouts at home without instruction or guidance. Showing up at a random CrossFit affiliate isn't a guarantee of success, either. With less-than-uniform standards across CrossFit boxes, too many gyms don't take the time to properly on-ramp newbies or appropriately scale down weights and reps (and modify movements) for those who are just getting started. Frankly, those places suck.

To do it right, do some research. Shop around. Find an affiliate that'll take the time to properly and safely get you onboarded.

And pretty soon, you, too, can puff out your chest and feed reporters some crap about how your workouts are tough enough to kill people.