CrossFit began in the early 2000's as a free exercise program dedicated to constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. The Workout of the Day (WOD) published daily on CrossFit.com created a cult like following with garage CrossFitters, active duty military personnel, and globo gym goes who were quickly on their way to getting kicked out for grunting. CrossFit soon moved to a warehouse space nearest you and provided a fun, energetic, and every changing workout to bring your fitness to the next level. Bicep curls were out and cleans became standard practice for the former athlete and soccer mom alike. This is CrossFit at it's finest as a fitness program.
In 2007 at his parents ranch in California, Dave Castro brought a few of his friends out to compete in the first ever CrossFit Games. He deemed the winners of this multi day event to be the Fittest on Earth. As the friendly meeting of exercisers grew, so did its audience and level of athleticism. In direct proportion with audience and TV coverage, these athletes became modern day gladiators lifting heavier and heavier weights, running longer, and walking on their hands better than many Americans on their feet. This is CrossFit at it's finest as a sport.
Both sides of CrossFit have positives that they bring to the fitness community, but the main issue I see arise is when we combine too much of the two. CrossFit as a fitness program should epitomize health at its forefront and competition extremely secondary. Exercise technique is always held as the top priority and load and intensity only increased when form has been achieved. Injury should not be occurring, or a rare occurrence based on a mistake of the athlete or coaches. This fitness program is perfect for everyone with its wide range of scalability in every workout preparing us for anything life throws at us from sitting up from a low chair to rock climbing on the weekends. All of these athletes can still compete, but once a week competing against friends or themselves is plenty. The remainder of their time in the gym should be spent practicing and training.
Now entering the realm of CrossFit as a Sport, competition is at the top of these athletes goals. Although technique is also a priority, these athletes need to be near the top of every fitness related task from gymnastics, to strength, to endurance. Practice and training should be the vast majority of how workouts are conducted. Competition should be saved for a few times a year, namely local competitions, the open, and potentially onto regionals or the games. Just as an NFL player only competes 16 times a year, the remainder of his day revolves around practice, training sessions, and recovery. Additionally, just like any professional athletes, these CrossFit athletes will get injured. At the rate they train and push themselves, it is inevitable. We now look to how we recovery from injuries and do our best to prevent them in the future.
Why is this important to distinguish CrossFit as a fitness program and CrossFit as a sport? Because too often in our gyms these lines are crossed. The vast majority of people walking into our gyms want to be better humans. They want to loose weight, be healthy, move well, learn a few cool moves (handstands are the best party tricks), and maybe light a fire they once had as a high school athlete. These people are here for a fitness program, not to be CrossFit athletes. They are here for 60 minutes, 3-6 times a week, and will never spend enough time recovering, on accessory work, or perfecting their macros to be as safe and effective of an athlete as possible. When a soccer mom hit a PR back squat, then wants to go light in the MetCon, that's okay! When accountant Joe feels a little something in his shoulder during cleans, he should stop or modify the movement. We want to push these individuals to elite fitness, but not push them to injury.
CrossFit athletes however need to do certain things that aren't the safest. They need to push through a certain degree of pain. They need to do kipping handstand pushups that push stress on the cervical spine. They need to do things that will help them win. This is a select few of us, and CrossFitters need to make the distinction between them. Some want to win their heat at Regionals and others just want to live a better life. Make sure your training and coaching aligns with those goals.
Sean Spire is the Head Coach of ASL. He was a competitive swimmer who discovered CrossFit and Ironman Triathlons. He has his BS in Exercise Science from Florida State University.