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In response to Jillian Michaels’ “The Good and Bad of CrossFit”

I’m Alex, a Level 1 CrossFit Trainer here at CrossFit Nashua. Recently, there has been a significant amount of attention put back on Jillian Michaels for her claims against CrossFit. Several CrossFit Games athletes, coaches, and other proponents of the training methodology have put out excellent responses to her take, which echoes several other ill-informed takes that have been put out over the past decade or more. The CrossFit community is no stranger to receiving these not-so-unique false accusations and responding to them. This is my response.

1. The title should not read “The GOOD and Bad of CrossFit”. At no point throughout the article does she write anything “good” about CrossFit. I came to this conclusion after re-reading the article three times because I was sure I had missed one part that said something good about the style of training that happens to also define my full time career. The only part that could potentially be considered “good” for CrossFit is at the very beginning where Michaels states, “I think any workout can be good when coached properly and programmed into your fitness regimen properly.” This is hardly something good about CrossFit, but hey, I had to go reaching here with what I’m working with.

2. Her next point truly struck a chord with me and actually got me to write this piece. “The exercises can be too complicated for the average person”. That is not only a disappointing statement to hear from a trainer, but is just sad. To me, this statement means that you give up on people before even trying. That you think certain people are not good enough; and all it really means is that YOU aren’t good enough to train them having a mindset like that. Is there a right and a wrong way to train more difficult movements? Absolutely. I cannot speak for other gyms, but here at CFN we take pride in never giving up on anyone who walks through our doors, regardless if they are top tier college athletes or 70 year old men or women just trying to stay healthy. And the BEST part of my job is seeing “the average person” accomplish something they never imagined that they could; whether it’s losing 100lbs or finally learning the right way to do a power clean with the barbell.

3. “Instructor certification isn’t rigorous enough”. The go-to knock on CrossFit. At this point, this take isn’t even worth the time of day so I won’t spend much time on it. CrossFit Training certifications are top tier in the fitness industry. The Level 1 seminar alone does a better job teaching trainers how to ACTUALLY TRAIN AND COACH clients better than 90% or more of the industry, especially when compared to your average CPT certification. Anyone who claims otherwise has most likely never been to the seminar.

4. “CrossFit training logic doesn’t make sense”. In this part of the article, Michaels admits to never understanding CrossFit training logic and says she has “never gotten any clear answers on it”. This is a fair statement if it’s true, so I’ll address the questions that she poses:

Q: “Why are prescribed WODs (workout of the day) often uniform when it comes to what weights each gender should lift - and why is this not ALWAYS prescribed on an individual basis?” A: Rx or prescribed weights are given as recommendations and goals to work toward. If there is nothing tangible for people to strive for, it can limit growth. Alongside the weights that are prescribed are often scaling options or ways to modify each movement. This is where the coach explains these options to members and makes suggestions to each member individually as to what they should do for their workout. Therefore, the coach individualizes the workout that is on the board for each member. An example of this answer can be found at your local CrossFit box that has a decent coach.

Q: “Why perform one exercise or two exercises doing ‘as many reps as possible’ in seven minutes?” A: CrossFit targets all ten components of fitness. Doing an “AMRAP” as we call it, or as many rounds or repetitions as possible in a designated amount of time, is one way to target some of those components. For example, it is an excellent way to build stamina as it puts your muscles under duress for a certain amount of time. In addition, CrossFit is defined as constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. How we define intensity is by a measure of power output, meaning the more work that you get done divided by the amount of time that it takes you equals more intensity, which yields better results in terms of fitness. CrossFit defines fitness as increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Basically, your ability to get all sorts of stuff done quickly and efficiently. There are times in life when you will need to perform repetitive tasks for seven minutes (most likely longer) such as shoveling, or helping someone move; therefore, that must be trained in the gym. For how to do that safely, refer to my answer to the previous question.

5. “There is no prioritizing of recovery”. Recovery is of utmost importance and CrossFit training does in fact prioritize it. We look at recovery as not only days off or rest days, but also through nutrition, sleep, mobility work, etc. At CFN, we recommend anyone starting out to get to the gym 3 times per week. Each individual is different; therefore, some may stay at 3 times per week forever, others may bump it up to 4 or 5 times per week. Throughout this process, we emphasize listening to your body and what it is telling you. We go over all things recovery related through multiple one on one “foundations” settings in which we explain how to tell if you are under recovered prior to anyone new to CrossFit joining our classes. These foundations sessions are at the crux of CrossFit training methodology in order to learn how to get the most out of training and recovering safely and effectively.

6. “Not enough variety”. There has been plenty of attention drawn toward Michaels’ statements on the “lack of variety” with CrossFit training, so again I will not spend much time here. All in all, there is no finite number of movements, planes of motion, and angles of push and pull when it comes to CrossFit. Constant variance is in its very definition.

7. To summarize the end of her article, Michaels states that people should not let CrossFit trainers train them unless they have a degree in exercise science. Although it is definitely important for trainers to have knowledge of human anatomy, I would argue that a degree in exercise science is NOT required to be a good, effective CrossFit trainer. It does take constant learning, but a degree and letters next to your name alone does not make you a good trainer. It is also interesting that this comment was made in the article when I can’t seem to find what her degree was in anywhere…

All in all, what Jillian Michaels is saying about CrossFit is nothing new and she is not the only one thinking this way. I encourage anyone reading this who is contemplating how safe CrossFit is to find a CrossFit gym coaching the methodology the right way and decide for yourself. I may know of a good place or two to try out…

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