My first thought as I walked into Brick, West Hollywood’s premier CrossFit facility, was, “This is every functional trainer’s dream.” There are no machines like the Smith Machine or leg extension, whose only purpose in the fitness realm should be to serve as coat hangers. By the looks of it, this place is a legitimate training facility.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with CrossFit, it is a high-intensity strength and conditioning program used by many police academies and military units that combines many different activities in a short period of time. In short, it’s intense.
Before the workout even began, participants started arriving 15 minutes early to start their foam rolling and movement prep (lunging, bridging and stretching with bands). What this means is that Brick has created an environment that empowers its clients to apply proper flexibility and mobility techniques as a part of their warm-up, which is necessary in order to reduce the risk of injury. Done are the times where running on a treadmill is the proper way to warm up prior to weight lifting.
Brick’s warm up of the day consisted of a 1,000 meter row, followed by three sets of three hang cleans and ended with four sets of one repetition (hang cleans) utilizing maximum load, which is one heck of a warm-up! The workout of the day, or “WOD” as CrossFitters like to call it, consisted of 20 rounds of one hang clean into three front squats, followed by six “Russian” kettle bell swings. Mind you, this is considered a mixed-level class, which, according to Brick, is acceptable for beginners, or those in recovery and/or therapy. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many beginners or those in recovery that are capable of doing Olympic lifts. But I digress.
The WOD crushed me. I repeat, crushed me. My hang cleans and front squats were only loaded with 85 lbs and my swings with a moderate 16kg (approximately 35 lbs). This entire sequence took me about 35 seconds to complete, leaving me with only 25 seconds of recovery before the next round began. Now for those of you who just found my last two sentences to sound like a foreign language, I need you to pay special attention. This is because a majority of CrossFitters are comprised of everyday people, not the advanced athlete or fitness professional who understands the elements of program design, progression and overload. This is when training like this becomes extremely dangerous in group settings.
Most beginners don’t even know how to squat correctly. Forget about loading them with a barbell, either front loaded or back loaded, and now you’re asking them to hang clean? How many weeks have these CrossFitters been taught the fundamentals and mechanics of Olympic lifting? Did you know that every collegiate athlete is taught the proper mechanics of every Olympic lift with a broomstick/pvc pipe until the movements are flawless? Did you know that this neurological adaptation can sometimes take up to 12 weeks? What I am trying to say is Olympic lifting is effective only when done correctly and to learn to do so can take days, weeks, and sometimes even months.
So, back to the WOD. During my brief recovery period, I was able to glance about the room and check out the technique applied to these lifts. Out of the 18 of us taking the class, four could only perform the movements flawlessly, even when fatigued. The remainder 14 suffered tremendously from horrible form and technique. Most of them were simply pushing too much weight and I watched in horror as their spines and knees buckled under the pressure. But, they kept going because that is the CrossFit mentality: go until you break, puke, or finish.
Now, I don’t know what’s happened to our industry. When did we decide that working out so hard until we can’t walk, move our arms, or bleed, defines “a good workout?” That’s just plain stupidity. A true athlete works hard so they can reach their athletic potential without breaking because they want to continue working pain-free. This is usually achieved with a systematic, periodization approach to their training program, and is all achieved with the assistance of a science-based coach.
In by no means am I suggesting that no one do CrossFit. And I would personally like to thank JP and his staff for making my CrossFit experience quite wonderful. If you are someone who is capable of performing Olympic lifts and high-intensity workouts without issue or injury, than this is the workout for you. If you are a beginner and desire to train like a skilled CrossFitter, hire a private strength coach or trainer who can get you to that point: don’t start your training program at CrossFit. It’s all about progression, ladies and gentlemen: if your end goal is to achieve CrossFit status, take the time to get yourself there. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Shabnam Islam is a personal trainer living in Venice, providing private, semi-private and group training. She has a bachelor’s degree in health communication from James Madison University and is currently pursuing her master’s in exercise physiology at Cal State Northridge. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.bodybyshab.com.