Is Crossfit a Fit?

Course: Crossfit Orientation Institution: San Francisco Crossfit

Instructor: Angel O

Location: Behind the Presidio Sports Basement, San Francisco

I arrived a few minutes early and surveyed the scene. There was a circle of people in a parking lot tucked behind a retail store heaving weights about. It was quiet with only the intermittent shouts of "time" from a coach who was staring down at her iPhone. I was watching a group class. To be able to join a group class, San Francisco Crossfit requires people to take a two week, 6 session, orientation course.

I was there to get oriented. My orientation class was five people and I was the only gal. The other participants were all very nice fellas who, from the looks of them, were there to bulk up. Our instructor started by asking us to do three pull ups. Then he asked us to do squats with just our body weight. Then he told us how we were doing it all wrong.

The emphasis of the orientation, according to our instructor, was to make sure we learned key movements that Crossfit utilizes, like a proper squat. In the first class, he used the Socratic method or really, a bastardized version of it, to teach. The class participants often looked at each other puzzled because he'd ask a question without any context, like, "How does this work?"

We'd look at him and at each other. Was he talking about the pipe in his hand, the weight on the floor, what? Our instructor was buff, but a teacher he was not.

The second class incorporated an actual work out portion. We learned more moves and weight holds and then did a 15 minute session that was, admittedly, intense. It consisted of box jumps, squats, cleans and burpees.

The subsequent classes increased the work out portion even more until we were conditioned for a whole hour of Crossfit exercises. I thought the workouts were challenging, but the culture is a bit macho (which I don't believe it has to be). The instructor often made comments about “real men” who in his mind were capable of doing things that my cohorts couldn’t.

And the tough guy environment doesn’t lend itself to asking for help. Case in point: one of my fellow orientation classmates was getting tired after 3 sets of 25 box jumps, 25 weight ball tosses and a ¼ mile run (with the goal being 5 sets). To give you a sense, these are high boxes (the platform was above my knees). After the third set, I knew I wasn't going to be able to complete 5 sets of 25 jumps without very likely scraping my shins on the box during a jump, so I switched to a shorter box that I saw nearby.

The guy who was struggling on his sets never received instruction to switch or given the option and so what happened? He injured himself when a jump of his fell short and he hit the box with his shins. He fell to the ground and grabbed his leg in agony. Did our instructor go over to help him? Offer him any words of advice – even a shorter box? Nope.

That brings me to my main criticism of Crossfit: it’s an injury waiting to happen.

While I like the demanding workouts, it's pretty clear that you really have to monitor yourself in these classes. The instructors will push and it is up to you to decide how much your body can handle and make adjustments as necessary. They are simply not qualified (most are not certified trainers and all that’s required for a level 1 Crossfit certification is $1,000 and a weekend) to assess what you’re capable of or to understand limits. The program also isn’t set up to be tailored to individuals.

Further, after watching some group classes, it's clear that after the orientation you're pretty much on your own as far as form and stretching. While I saw one instructor catch a few form mistakes, most instructors I observed were looking at their phones or chatting with other instructors during the workouts.

So is Crossfit a fit? I think it's a good way to get our of your workout comfort zone for those who are experienced with weights, but if you're not and don’t know how to set your own limits, it may not be a fit.