“ONE hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. “Just the things to quench my thirst,” quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: “I am sure they are sour.”
The media has gone crazy with CrossFit content. Websites often pay writers according to the number of clicks their articles generate. Here’s a formula for success: pair a trending and controversial brand such as CrossFit, with dramatic headlines. This click-bait formula has encouraged reporters to insinuate that people are dying in droves from participating in CrossFit. Is CrossFit Killing Us? Is CrossFit Destroying the World? Who wouldn’t want to read more to ensure that their friends and family were safe from such an ominous threat?
So when I first saw Erin Simmons’ article “Why I don’t do CrossFit,” I ignored it. The wave of dramatic CrossFit articles has already peaked, and frankly, no one is saying anything new. Those looking for an excuse to dislike CrossFit can find one, and the more discerning will continue to discover and benefit from our program.
But after Erin’s article began made the rounds on social media, a large number of people asked for my response. Unfortunately, Erin’s critiques of CrossFit aren’t worth responding to. They consist of a few demonstrably false claims, and a consistent appeal to authority. Her points are so obviously wrong that even legitimate critics of CrossFit disagreed with her article.
But I do think another kind of response is in order, one that might help readers to recognize this type of article for what it truly is. This article isn’t about CrossFit – it is a coping mechanism.
Erin Simmons is not a normal CrossFit client. She has spent years attempting to turn herself into a popular fitness personality and model, and has made a name for herself by offering training, ab photos, and nutritional advice on her personal blog.
Put yourself in Erin’s shoes. You have experience as a collegiate athlete. You believe this experience uniquely qualifies you to become a fitness celebrity, and you pursue this dream whole-heartedly.
Now another, incredibly successful, program comes along (CrossFit). This program advocates methods of training that contradict what you teach.
Where you believe that picking stuff off the ground (deadlifting) is dangerous, CrossFit teaches that it is essential for developing fitness and improving quality of life. Where you said that some movements should only be done in low-rep schemes, CrossFit advocates they be done in all rep-schemes, with a variety of loads, and for different amounts of time. Where you teach that fitness should be measured by correlates like body fat and V02max, CrossFit defines fitness by measuring an athlete’s ability to do work.
And where you promise results, CrossFit delivers them.
It began as an underground rebellion against the mainstream fitness industry, but in the past year something unexpected happened: CrossFit became the new leader of the fitness industry. It is more effective than its predecessors, and has swelled to a network of over 80,000 CrossFit L1 Trainers and over 10,000 of the most successful gyms in the world. And it all started with CrossFit giving its workouts away for free on a simple website. CrossFit is now ubiquitous, and even our harshest critics imitate our methods.
And who is responsible for this? A former high school gymnast from California who started a gym in a one-car garage and published a list of ways to get kicked out of health clubs.
Again, put yourself in Erin’s shoes, or the many others in the fitness industry like her. CrossFit is run by people who do not hold the industry-accepted “qualifications” that you spent time, effort, and money pursing, and yet suddenly these people have more influence in *your* industry than you do.
You’re behind the curve, and fewer and fewer people are taking your advice. You suddenly feel like a dying breed of fitness expert, and it’s just not fair.
Like the fox in Aesop’s fable, Erin Simmons has written an article that serves to protect for her own ego. The narrative she has crafted takes a few hollow jabs at CrossFit, but it primarily exhibits her own accomplishments. She is careful to note her ability to perform a muscle-up while others couldn’t. She is careful to transcribe her resume as a collegiate level athlete, and include the impressive accomplishments of the universities she has attended. She positions herself on the side of those she believes to be authorities in the fitness industry, and makes herself the victim of a dangerous and irresponsible program that we should all avoid.
The grapes are beyond Erin’s grasp, and someone else is taking them. So Erin, and those like her, must cry out to the world that they are sour. A cry that becomes shriller every year.
The moral of Aesop’s story of the fox and the grapes can be summarized as “Any fool can despise what he can not get.” There are intelligent, and balanced critiques of CrossFit. While I don’t agree with most of them, these critiques can help highlight misconceptions about the CrossFit program, and thus help us refine how we teach that program. This is not one of them.
So what positive lessons can we glean from Erin’s article?
First, when you see a critique, look for, and assess the argument or evidence provided for that critique.
In Erin’s article, she makes a number of conclusive statements about CrossFit, and doesn’t provide evidence or rational arguments to defend those statements. The bulk of these claims come in the form of “CrossFit is dangerous.” Humorously, there are only two published studies that indicate a rate of injury for CrossFit. One indicates that it is just as safe as any other form of fitness training. The other found a higher injury rate, but it was based on falsified data and its authors have been sued for fraud. Do your homework, ask questions, and don’t believe something just because an “authority” suggests that it is true.
Finally, don’t get too worked up about everything published on the internet.
People feel strongly about CrossFit because it changes their lives. A combination of gratitude and allegiance drives the CrossFit community to defend their own against these types of articles. But the truth is, this type of article is symbolic of our success. No one is writing emotional manifestos against Blackberries, yet it’s hard to keep track of the number of commercials attempting to point out flaws with Apple products.