What makes CrossFit different?

This weekend I went to the Fitness Festival here in Tallahassee.  I pretty much knew what to expect although when faced with bs at such intensity it is a bit overwhelming.  I've been thinking how I ought to express the differences between CrossFit and other "normal" fitness programs. One way is to look at these "other" approaches and show how what we do is different. To keep the peace I'm not going to use brand names but if you pay attention you'll know who's who.

  • CrossFit is evidence-based.

For CrossFit results are everything.  That means we aren't ideological. We don't have a "preferred" method that we hold in the face of evidence to the contrary of its efficacy. It also means none of our methods and approaches become part of the program without strong reasons for their presence.  And these reasons are never economic.  For instance, if a fitness business has invested in numerous exercise machines then they are committed to that method and this commitment doesn't lessen if the method proves faulty for producing results for the client.  I'll throw out my medicine balls if I find they don't help but do you think anyone would be able to do the same to many thousands of dollars in exercise machines? No, they couldn't and stay in business at the same time. It's also not the case that CrossFit doesn't want to spend money on equipment. We buy a ton of equipment, not all or even much of it is inexpensive.

  • At CrossFit we believe in setting high expectations.

It is common for people to say this about school children, but when it comes to something they personally have to put effort out is a different story!  Many fitness businesses cater to low expectations.  How else can someone who hasn't trained in years yet can go to their "gym" workout and it really not affect them.  It's not "hard."  Hell, every machine, ah I mean "exercise" involves sitting down! Most people in the world don't sit nearly as much as we do.  We even sit to "exercise"!  Ever wonder why?  Everyone at CrossFit does the same workout.  Yes, we realize people have different capabilities, which is why we scale the workouts.  Yet, everyone has the same goal: to complete the WOD with the best possible form in the fastest time. We all start at different points but we share the common goal to be as fit as we possibly can.

  • CrossFit builds confidence and doesn't depend on insecurities

The business of many gyms depend on taking advantage of people's fears.  Women are special targets of these operators, but the fears of parents are also on their agenda. Women do not need "special" fitness programs.  Women are people too and while there are differences between male and female capabilities these differences are not enough for vastly different approaches and programs. Approaches that sequester women from men are playing in to insecurities of women. It says to women it's ok to feel bad exercising in the presences of men. This is hogwash! Women are not weak, or rather do not have to be weak, and do not have to be timid. Sure there are some things that women can't do as well as men but this isn't news! What must be news to some people is that women can do some things better than men!  Airsquats are one thing.  Most women can kick most men's butts in this little feat.  I can speak for one guy that finds it kind of frustrating to have a newbie girl whip him on this. Other body weight exercises too.

Now there are special "gyms" for kids complete with special "scientifically" designed machines for them. Now do I have to point out the obvious?  Yea, ok,  there is no machine that's ever been designed that is superior to barbells for training the human body, whether that is a male, female or child!  Some will say form is the problem. Yes, form is important but building a machine to ensure correct form is the wrong approach.  It's the wrong approach because it's a solution in search of a problem that has other, mostly economic, reasons that truly drive its use.  See the rant about ideology above.

  •  CrossFit teaches and trains human movement not machine-assisted movement.

Why is it that the predominant model for fitness exercise is so machine centric? Is it because machines are more effective?  Nope, it's an economic justification not a fitness rationale.  Here's a little story that I think illustrates my point. When Ray Kroc brought the original hamburger joint from the McDonald brothers it was one hamburger joint among many others.  Kroc almost immediately recognized he had a problem.  His profits depended on his restaurant being about to serve good burgers fast.  Yet, finding a cook that could do both at the same time wasn't easy, and when he found someone other restaurants would hire them away.  The only way to keep the fast and good cooks were to pay them more but that cut into the profits of nickel burgers.  His solution was to automate the cooking in his restaurants.  Now it's a running joke about who can work at McDonald's, anyone can!  The automation cues even the most clueless, so the burgers are almost always good and fast.  Problem solved.

How does this apply to "health" clubs? Remember I said earlier that no one had ever designed a better system to train the human body than barbells.  Some think there is a problem with them. Everyone at first needs supervision and coaching. This is a problem in the same way Ray Croc had a problem with good cooks. They cost money! McDonald's automates the cooking of hamburgers to save on skilled labor and many "gyms" today use machines that "automate" a person's form. Are McDonald's hamburgers better because of automation?  I don't know but I do know that gym exercise machines take more away than they give. Pressing a bar over your head involves every muscle you have, but press on a machine isolates (they say this like it's a good thing!) muscles.  Like a person can "isolate" any muscle in every day life.

Businesses that want to make a profit as a gym need to reduce costs in order to make profits. They do this by providing an environment when the client can't get hurt due to lack of expensive supervision. How can they eliminate supervision? Capture those "free" weights and put them into prison! Make everyone into "pin-setters" so they can't get hurt.  Spend 15 minutes with each new client showing them where the pins go and which "sit down" machines have seat belts and you're done!

Damn the efficacy!  Hell, it depends on the beginner's ability to show progress for the first month or two and let the inevitable boredom compel them to stay home but still pay the fee cause they intend to workout but just can't bring themselves to.  It all fits the business model!  Now we have equipment manufactures creating new "systems" all the time and trying to create and drive sales.

But does it work for the client? That doesn't matter, not really.  Not in the big picture.  Hogwash, all hogwash!  As you can tell I just loved the fitness festival! Oh boy!

Ok, ok, rant mode off!

Today's WOD:

Shoulder Press 1-1-1-1-1-1-1

Warm Up:

Samson Stretch

Overhead Squat w/bar

Medicine Ball Clean w/20 lbs

Abmat Situp



Row 300m

5 rounds of 10 reps.


Liz: 55-60-65-68-66-65 miss-65

Mike: 155-165-165-155 miss- 155 miss- 135

Clarence: 135-155-165-175 pushed- 180 miss- 175-180

Awesome job everyone!  Pressing is hard!

Clarence met another milestone: Pull-ups! When Clarence came here two long weeks ago he couldn't even do one pull-up. After an untold number of jumping and band-assisted pull-ups he did six (!) straight-arm pull-ups in a row this morning!  Hurray! I asked him did he know how long it took me to do that and he said I was old.  Well you can't argue with truth! Yuck!

Here's a question for you: how long did it take you to go from no pull-ups to 6?  Longer than two weeks I'll wager. These are REAL RESULTS!

 Mike channeling the steel. . .

Liz is all business.

Beginning the press.

The pressure is increasing!

Oh! What a relief!

Clarence does love to row. Not!

Lots of people think the bench press is the best indicator of strength.  Evidently these people have never tried to press. Pressing is harder and more functional too.  After all the natural thing to do is once you've picked something up is put it over your head!


Clarence is pressing almost his body weight.  He only needs another 15 pounds to match it!  Clarence is the strongest man I know!

Greg Keeter4 Comments