Crossfit HIIT

My Problem(s) With Crossfit and HIIT-Style Fitness

Now, I know that this article is going to get some opinions thrown at it, and that’s totally fine.  I just hope that whoever reads this can come into it with an open mind.  I’m not trying to attack anyone’s passion or livelihood, but in my opinion there are some major flaws with Crossfit and most gyms with a similar-type of programming.  

First, a little background.  I started working out when I was 8 years old.  I had one of those sand/water weight-sets, and for the next 25 years I followed the same basic schedule for my training.  I would alternate every day between lifting and running.  Admittedly, I knew very little about fitness in general, and while I thought I was in pretty good shape, after following that same schedule for the better part of two decades, my results plateaued and my discipline waivered.  I was teaching high school at the time and a co-worker of mine suggested I try Crossfit.  At that point I vaguely knew what Crossfit was and it hadn’t really piqued my interest, but I figured why not?  So, I gave it a shot and was hooked right from the start.  For the next few years I was all up in the Crossfit kool-aid.  I even got my level 1 certificate and started coaching at a local gym.  It was at this point though that I started to fall out of love with Crossfit for a number of reasons. 

  • The mindset.  I experienced this first hand as an athlete and saw it everyday in the gym as a coach.  The main focus of every workout is performance.  Crossfit is a competition-oriented program.  Every WOD (Workout of the Day) is for time or reps or load.  And hey, a little competition can be motivating, but you shouldn’t be competing in every training session because it tends to take focus away from efficiency and technique.  This then leads to sloppy movement patterns and bad habits such as bouncing weight off the ground, partial range of motion, incorrect muscle recruitment, and only kipping for certain movements instead of working on perfecting the strict version.  As a coach, I tried to change this dynamic by educating the athletes to always focus on getting the MOST out of the workout by concentrating on form and proper movement, not getting done with it as fast as possible.  Those two things don’t usually walk hand in hand, and ultimately, it proved to be a near impossible task to pivot this perspective because of how ingrained it is into the culture.  

  • The programming.  Cut and dry, there’s too much intensity and volume in most Crossfit programs with not enough emphasis being placed on rest, recovery, and technique.  The sexy part of training is lifting the heavy weight, performing your first muscle up or crushing a PR, while the smaller details such as stretching, soft tissue mobilization, technique perfection, and deload weeks are consistently left in the dust with Crossfit and similar gyms or programs.  
  • The second issue I have with the Crossfit philosophy of fitness is that most WODs are the same type of energy system training: mixed modal aerobic (MMA).  When a workout is for time (meaning you are trying to finish as fast as possible) there usually isn’t any prescribed rest between rounds, so the athlete ends up working within the aerobic energy pathway.  There’s nothing wrong with incorporating MMA training into your program, but it shouldn’t make up the majority of work.  You want to make sure to train within the other two energy systems as well, and if you haven’t already, make sure to check out my article explaining the different energy pathways and how to train each of them - Conditioning- What is it Exactly?

    Narrow training yields narrow results.  Ideally, you want to cycle through all the different types of strength training and conditioning with efficiency and purpose.  Every time you exercise you or your trainer/coach should know exactly what specific adaptations you are trying to achieve.  Walk into many gyms throughout the country and ask the coach running that day’s WOD what the desired effect is for that session and most would either not know or would answer incorrectly.     

    1. The coaching and affiliate process.   It takes one weekend course- 16 hours total - to get a level-1 Crossfit Certificate.  With that level-1 cert, you can coach at any Crossfit facility and/or open your own affiliate gym.  I understand that Crossfit is an international enterprise that needs to generate revenue to exist, and the affiliate component is a big part of that.  But like any business that’s ever existed, the more expansion, the worse the quality control.  There is very little uniformity from gym to gym.  They all wave the Crossfit banner and share the same fitness vernacular such as WODs, AMRAPs, METCONs and Hero Workouts, but outside of that, there is very little uniformity from gym to gym.  You can drop into two different Crossfit gyms in the same city, and gym A will have owners and coaches who were former NCAA trainers with years of experience and collegiate degrees in kinesiology and sports medicine.  Just a few blocks down the road gym B could have an owner/coach who was an accountant for most of his/her adult life, started doing Crossfit a couple years ago and decided that they wanted to switch careers so they went and got their level 1 certificate and are now owners/operators of a Crossfit gym.  The knowledge and experience between the two gyms will be evident in the programming, coaching and overall health and fitness knowledge.  I experienced this first hand on multiple occasions at the different gyms I dropped into.  There is so much to learn in the health and fitness sector, and to think that someone is well-enough equipped to oversee a gym or coach after 16 hours of training is problematic.  Everyone starts somewhere, but there should be more training, specifically with hands-on experience.  

    1. The class setting.  My last issue is the class format.  For most class-style fitness the ratio of coach to athlete is too big.  The more athletes per coach, the less attention to detail, and from my personal experience the less coaching overall.  I’ve dropped in to many classes where the coach was just a glorified cheerleader.  They would explain the WOD as it was scripted, put the team through a warm-up, start the clock and then yell something motivational every once in a while.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve dropped in to some gyms where the coaches have been knowledgeable and attentive, but this seems to be the exception to the rule.  In many classes, the music is blaring, the clock is running and the coaching is tailored toward motivating instead of correcting and educating.  Motivation is an important requisite for a coach, but it’s not the only requisite.  


    So, there it is.  I know this seems like an attack on Crossfit and similar gyms, but it’s really just my opinion based on my personal experience, both as an athlete and a coach.  I am not saying that people need to cancel their memberships or all the Crossfit gyms need to be shuttered immediately.  I just wanted to highlight my concerns so that the general public can make informed decisions for their own well-being.  High intensity work should be a part of a well-rounded training protocol, but there needs to be variation beyond that in order to avoid plateaus, burnout, and injury.  Above all, pay attention to what your body is telling you.  If you are constantly sore and tired then you most likely need to adjust your program by placing more emphasis on rest and recovery.  Doing less to achieve more may just be the answer to the problem you didn’t know you have!

    Let’s get fit!


    PS- If you’re ready to take your health to the next level, make sure to book a free call with me to discuss the ways that FIT4YOU can help you achieve optimal results in your fitness journey.  Click the link below:



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