Why CrossFit Sucks


Yo Bro!


So there I was dripping in sweat, grasping for air, when I saw him out of the corner of my eye. His name was Gus, and I had the pleasure of meeting him yesterday.


“Yo bro!” He yells during his sixth set of bicep curls.


“Your form is horrible, bro. You gotta slow it down and lift the weight properly bro, real slow like and controlled, ya know bro!”


(For some reason, he thought we were brothers.) He then went on a rant about my form, my exercise selection, and why he is probably the world’s most experienced trainer. I smiled politely and said, “I know, today is my explosive rep day.”


I didn’t argue with him. As George Carlin famously said,


“Never argue with an idiot. They will beat you with experience and drag you down to their level.”


Thanks George. So I put my headphones in, and went back to my workout. I knew my form was questionable, but that was the goal of this workout – to allow some body language, aka cheating, to help me lift an additional 10-15% more than I normally would. The entire workout today called for an explosive concentric portion followed by a controlled 2-second eccentric lift. I knew the next two days were rest days, so today called for an all-out assault on my upper body.


As it turns out, the bro that approached me has the same mindset as most gym-goers – short term. They believe they can judge somebody’s overall plan by thinking short term and by just looking at one portion of an entire program. This explosive day was a planned, programmed workout that was preceded by some slower tempo-style training.


And it was all a part of my master plan.


The First Rule Of Programming


The first rule of programming is simple – actually have a program. Most people try to wing it in the gym. They believe they need to shock the body constantly by mixing up the exercises, rep range, and weight every single week*. After all, that’s what the fitness magazines say.


(*BTW – if your trainer does this, it’s time for a new one.)


I can definitely relate. The first five years I spent lifting weights I did just that. And whilst training with randomness will lead to some great gains in the short term, it’s rendered pointless after that. Instead, you need to follow an intelligent, periodised training plan.


The problem with the internet is that there is SO much information floating around. There are a gazillion training guides, blogs, diet plans, podcasts and books that are available for free. It’s no wonder most people feel overwhelmed. I know I sure did. I was jumping from HIIT training, to barbell complexes, to German Volume Training, to some extreme bodybuilding program in my quest for a badass body.It wasn’t until I got back to basics and followed a program for it’s entirety that the fat started to melt away and my strength increased.


Remember what I told you earlier… The #1 rule of programming is actually have a program.


Like my bro Gus, you can’t judge a program by just looking at one workout. It’s how the days, weeks and months integrate that really matters.


More Than Intensity


You’ve heard me speak previously about the importance of intensity. However an effective program is not just about balls-to-the-wall intensity. If your trainer insists that you need to puke every single session to “toughen you up”, you need to find a better trainer.


As Eric Cressey likes to point out, “Anybody can make an athlete tired; not everyone can make an athlete better, though.”


Instead you need an intelligent program. I know the words intelligent and gym rarely go together. Not when referring to meatheads like me. But it IS possible to create an intelligent gym program.


Here’s a quick checklist:

  • It needs to be individualised,
  • It needs to be structurally balanced,
  • It needs to have planned rest periods (either days or weeks),
  • It needs plenty of variety,
  • It should offer proper warm up protocols,
  • And it most definitely should take your lifestyle into account.


This cannot be achieved in just one workout. You will need to stick with your program for a period of 6-12 weeks. Each phase within the program might build on one another. So don’t jump programs at week three to try out the latest and greatest Muscle & Fitness workout.


Foam, Downward Dogs + Baby Oil


If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already working out for a few hours in total each week. What does that mean?


It means there’s still a whopping 162-164 hours per week for you to undo the week’s progress made in the gym.


An intelligent training plan will focus on equal parts recovery and progress. Whether that’s an entire week of de-loading, or simply incorporating a range of recovery techniques, is really beside the point. It’s beyond the scope of this article so I’ll follow up with a complete recovery post soon.


If you’re not engaging in some consistent form of recovery, your progress is stalled.


As you’ve no doubt heard before, progress occurs after a session and not during. So the better you can recover means the faster you can improve. My top-3 recovery methods utilise foam, downward dog and baby oil. They are:

  1. Foam Rolling (daily)
  2. Yoga (weekly)
  3. Deep-tissue massage (Monthly)


One Workout Won’t Help You


You can’t be like Gus and judge a program by a single workout. Take CrossFit as an example. I’m the first to admit that there are certain things about CrossFit that I agree with. They use high intensity training, their workouts are short, they incorporate Olympic lifts and compound exercises, and they create a supportive environment.


But the actual programming given in most CrossFit boxes is flawed.


Let me clear something up – I’ve trained in more than a dozen CF boxes around the world. Far from being a veteran, I know. But enough to give the programming a fair assessment. Like any industry, there are plenty of fantastic and experienced CF coaches who have been training and coaching for years. This rant is not aimed at them.


The problem I see with most CrossFit programs is that there is generally no consideration for the next day, week, or month of workouts. There is no overall program. They focus instead on workouts. They attempt to make a name for themselves by just one workout. And you will get a good workout by walking into most CrossFit boxes around the world. But that’s very different from following an effective program.


Stringing a bunch of workouts together does NOT make an effective program.


An effective program allows for specific adaptations to occur during the cycle, so that each week and month work together and build on the one you just completed. And that’s what grinds my gears when it comes to CrossFit. It’s almost there – and I think that eventually it will work itself out – but for now there are some programming issues that need to be addressed.

Closing Thoughts


To recap, an intelligent program needs:

  • An overall plan, so that each phase builds on each other,
  • To your history, lifestyle, and periods of over-training into consideration,
  • To use of a mixture of recovery methods (such as my faves: baby oil, foam, and downward dog),
  • Periodised strength training techniques,
  • A focus on long-term progress, and not just a focus on a singular workout.

And when you see Gus in your gym, think of the George Carlin quote.