Cross, Fit? (Part Three)

CrossFit coach instructs class.

In parts one and two, I discussed what I like about the CrossFit movement and what I don’t like about it. In conclusion, I will discuss whether you should stick to the commercial gym or try the local box instead.

Did you find a good coach?

Your fitness experience greatly comes down to who guides you through this journey, and if you don’t need a coach, you can always take your high-intensity, constantly varied, functional workout to the commercial gym down the street for a fraction of the cost—or even better, to your garage or a local park. Especially for neophyte exercisers, the coaches and staff are the most important component of the workout experience. Before you even ask about costs or agree to the customary consultation, make sure that this is a place where you can learn and flourish. Although the first question you should ask is what qualifications the coach and staff have (if formal university education in a related field or the acronyms NSCA, NASM, and USAW do not come up, kindly thank them for their time and walk out), it is more than that. Watch them run a class. Does their teaching style work well with how you learn? Are they able to offer alternatives to students who cannot (or should not) perform more complex movements? Do they offer assistance with nutrition, and is this assistance from someone who is legitimately qualified to offer it? You are paying a massive premium for expertise and environment, so make sure it works for you.

Do you value the environment?

My favorite place to get in a workout is in my garage. Dim lighting, headphones in, lots of chalk—alone. Nobody clapping or cheering me on; just me and my thoughts. But I admit, I am an outlier. As the research has made abundantly clear, for most people, the social component of exercising is a huge factor. Having a healthy support system is integral to showing up and pushing yourself to the extent necessary to induce physiological adaptation. The exercise habits of those you surround yourself with is one of the key factors in your own health. As I mentioned previously, the social support offered by the typical CrossFit box environment is like nothing I’ve seen before. Do you thrive in a competitive environment? Are you motivated to push yourself by seeing others succeed? Does having a workout buddy (or an entire room full of them) increase your chance of sticking to a program? If you are extrinsically motivated and like the idea of training with a group of like-minded individuals, trying out a CrossFit box may be worth a shot.

Do you need variety?

As the fundamental principles of exercise physiology clearly state, and research continues to prove over and over again, physiologically, variety is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to exercise. You don’t need to constantly “confuse” your muscles with new movements, you need to constantly challenge them with increased loads. Although I have spent the majority of my life studying the most complex minutiae of exercise science, in the real world I am constantly reminded that it isn’t that complicated. When it comes to exercise, people tend to overthink and under work. But, there is a legitimate psychological component to this constantly varied method of exercise. In this day and age of instant gratification and constant entertainment, some people simply need change to maintain their interest. Recent studies have shown that exercise variety doesn’t necessarily improve outcomes, but it definitely improves adherence. So, if you are like most people and struggle with exercise principle #1 (“Just Do It”), there is some real value in the constantly varied methodology CrossFit offers, as long as you take the time to perfect movement first.

Some people will experience great progress from very simple and straightforward exercise programming such as Starting Strength or StrongLifts 5×5. Actually everybody will if they don’t quit out of boredom first. But if you are one of the masses who is constantly visiting the Itunes app store for new routines, CrossFit offers that in spades.

Questionable biomechanics, energy system nonsense, and faulty exercise programming aside, whether or not CrossFit is right for you comes down to . . . you. Your goals and your needs for social support and constant variation. Whether visiting the local CrossFit box is worth your time comes down to what you personally need to make progress. When it comes to fitness, generally, whatever exercise you will consistently do is the best method. If CrossFit motivates you to make exercise a regular part of your life and continue progressing towards your goals, then a punch card to your local box could be the best investment you ever make.

Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.