CrossFit Draws Numbers, But Also Criticism

By Kevin Bruno • Aug 9th, 2013 • Category: Features

Photo credit: Chris Bruno

The sound of death metal blasts through the warehouse-style gym.  Soccer moms and men in their mid 20s sporting tattoos lie on the floor gasping for air next to a dozen barbells loaded with weights.  This is what you are likely to find when walking into a gym that specializes in CrossFit, one of the biggest workout fads to hit the fitness industry in the past decade.

CrossFit attracts people of all ages from different walks of life.  A strength- and conditioning-based workout program, CrossFit incorporates Olympic-style lifts with some gymnastic and strongman exercises.  Workouts are normally performed within a group or class and often last no longer than 30 minutes, without any rest.

Like every new fad, Crossfit has its naysayers.  Many within the bodybuilding and fitness community feel that CrossFit is just another gimmick or marketing strategy to gobble up members’ money.  “It’s definitely not for everyone,” says Robert Rodriguez, who’s been involved in the bodybuilding and fitness industry since the 1980s.  “It’s more for people that are young and healthy enough to perform those dangerous lifts.  Anyone else there is just a ticking time bomb and an injury is waiting to happen.”

Unlike the traditional fitness gym where you will find many resistance machines across the gym floor and members working out independently to their own program, CrossFit is based around a community of people working out together.  Only free weights such as barbells, dumbbells, and pull-up bars can be found at a CrossFit gym.

Bodybuilding gyms and general fitness centers have been around since the days of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s competitive bodybuilding career in the 1970s.  These gyms usually average about $25-$60 a month for a membership, while most CrossFit gyms cost $100-$200 a month.  “It’s way too expensive as well, considering you can pay less than half that and perform the same exercises at a regular gym without hurting your wallet,” said Rodriguez.

Many also feel that CrossFit has gained the reputation of having a “cult-like” following and has just been a way for people to feel they belong to a special club.  However, David Plumey, owner and coach of Shoreline CrossFit in Branford, Connecticut feels that this characteristic is what drives CrossFit.  “I completely agree that it has attracted a cult following,” he said.  ”People are compulsive and feed off of the energy generated by others.  Finishing one of these workouts is like surviving a plane crash.  When you see raw human effort and emotion, it brings people together.”

Recently, CrossFit has been seen not only as a gym or workout regimen, but also as a sport.  Since 2007, CrossFit has hosted an annual competition known as the CrossFit Games, where the highest ranked athletes across the country compete for prize money and to be named “the fittest on earth.”

The first ever Crossfit Games were hosted on a private ranch during a backyard barbecue in Aromas, California and featured only a handful of competitors.  Today, the games have grown into a full-fledged commercial event that takes place over an entire week in the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.  With the increase in CrossFit gyms across the country, there are now regional competitions that qualify competitors for entry into the Games.  In 2012, the CrossFit games were broadcast around the globe on ESPN, proving how much the sport has grown in a relatively short time.

When asked how CrossFit differs specifically from the average gym or other sports in general, Plumey said, “Unlike most sports that rely on a team effort, this is an individual sport. Therefore it brings out your weaknesses and forces you to become a better version of yourself.  It’s always changing and every workout is a new challenge.”

WODs, also known as the “workouts of the day,” are posted on the board each day and offer variation to a crossfitter’s regimen.  “The most important difference between CrossFit and your average gym is that here you get results,” Plumey said.

One that can definitely attest to getting results is Shoreline Crossfitter Fabio Lonero.  Lonero has gone through a complete body transformation, starting from a body weight of 248 pounds. He’s dropped to 166 pounds over the span of a year, and his pant size has decreased from 44 to a 33.

“Before starting CrossFit, I knew I had to do something to change my life,” Lonero said.  ”I was heavy, not healthy, and I didn’t like the way I looked or felt.”

Lonero agrees that the social aspect of CrossFit is an added plus. “There’s definitely a social aspect to it, everyone holds each other accountable, it’s what I basically needed to get healthy,” he said.  ”It’s more than just working out, it’s about helping people, and helping others realize that they could do something they can’t do.”

According to an article in the Marine Corps Times, an ex-sailor successfully sued CrossFit for health damaging effects he experienced after performing a workout at an affiliated gym.  The lawsuit ended with a $300,000 reward and bad publicity for CrossFit.  However, Plumey argues that, “CrossFit can be dangerous if not done in the right way or if a coach isn’t skilled.  CrossFit done properly is for everyone.”

In the end, proponents like Lonero don’t hesitate endorsing CrossFit to friends and family members. “I would recommend CrossFit to anyone,” he said.  ”It could change someone’s life, and I’m living proof.  You just have to be willing to put in the work.  It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but also the most rewarding.”

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