When it comes to analysis and criticisms of CrossFit’s methodologies, there doesn’t seem to be anything new under the sun.  The media has been exhaustive and unrelenting in content relating to CrossFit’s supposed glaring flaws.  At this point in the conversation, chances are there is no need to click the links you see in order to rewrite a carbon copy of what you would find inside.  An abbreviated version of their content: “CrossFit is erratic, dangerous, and goes against what highly educated fitness and health professionals will tell you is a safe way to pursue a healthier lifestyle. “ As these criticisms have continued to surface, the defenders of CrossFit have come out with equal and opposite force.  As can be expected from a “YES IT IS”, “NO IT ISN’T” sort of argument, the conversation has polarized both sides to the point that most people who have heard it enough would rather watch a really bad game of ping pong go back and forth.

Like most people who see this happening, I have been tempted to take a passive approach in the discussion for fear of adding to the noise.  I’ve been afraid that by getting involved, it would be the equivalent of jumping in the middle of a pool party full of strangers…only the pool is filled with wet concrete. However, as I’ve seen it play out recently, I’ve wondered if there is a way to reframe the discussion that will actually gain some headway in making some effective change in how we all respond to these criticisms.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things to keep in mind in order to do that effectively, but add it to your arsenal if you haven’t already come to these conclusions on your own.

Here are three ideas I’ve found helpful in framing the discussion:

Number one, media outlets are for profit businesses.  This may seem like an obvious observation to make, but it is very telling as to why these sorts of articles continue to surface and gain traction.  While there are many ways in which the media at large is enriching and informative, it is always good to remember that clicks, views and shares are irrevocably connected to dollars and cents.  Like any commodity in business, if you feel like you have a profitable asset that will continue to produce, you milk it for every dollar you can until it’s time to move on to the next controversial story in the hype factory.  I’ve found it helpful to think of the controversy surrounding CrossFit as an investment the media will continue to retain and reuse until it’s exhausted all of it’s staying power.  Jon Stewart recently portrayed this concept and how it plays in out in the media in a way that can’t help but make you chuckle.  Case in point: http://youtu.be/krFN7jHKNNo

If you keep this in mind as you see these articles and “studies” continue to surface, the surprise and frustration will eventually turn into an understanding of their purpose in the media’s business practices.  If nothing else, I think this understanding will help many of CrossFit’s staunch defenders not respond in kind and stiffen the gridlock.

Secondly, criticizing CrossFit’s methods shouldn’t be grouped together with the imperfect implementation of those methods. There are a large number of ways this has been done, but lets look at it specifically in relation to the most hyped criticism of CrossFit. It’s DANGER (cue suspenseful horror film music). At the CrossFit Level 1 Course, there is a progression that is taught for how to introduce athletes to movements in the program.  That progression is to first see that an athlete has understanding of the technique, then that there is consistency in that understanding, then add intensity only when consistency is achieved.  If this progression is followed, I’ll borrow a line from Lloyd Christmas when I say you’re much more likely to be injured ON THE WAY to the CrossFit facility.

In order to become a certified coach and/or affiliate owner, you must prove you have retained this concept in a formal exam at the end of your training.  In essence, the underlying agreement you’re making is that you are going to take this concept and strive to apply it in the most effective way you can if you are going to be given the right to use the trademarked name of “CrossFit” in your training and business practices.  However, I think anyone that has been in the world of CrossFit long enough knows that the implementation of those concepts isn’t perfect.  I think it goes without saying there are coaches and owners who fall short of the mark.  It may be carelessness, inexperience, misunderstanding, or a combination of all three that causes this, but there is no doubt that mark has been and will continue to be missed in some cases.  The scope and severity of these imperfections has been overblown in a way that is misleading and dishonest by many, but even this reality shouldn’t alarm anyone who believes (like I do) that CrossFit is the best thing to ever happen to the mainstream fitness industry.

Take this example by comparison; according to a Congressional Budget Office report, in 2009 there was $35 billion worth of medical malpractice liability paid out to patients in America.  This means that money was spent to compensate patients who feel their treatment in a medical facility was such that they deserved retribution.  The scope and reasons for the staggering amount spent to rectify these mistakes isn’t cited, but there are some connections to be made here as it relates to CrossFit’s supposedly harmful methods.  I don’t believe that anyone’s initial reaction to these statistics is to direct criticism towards the methods we use to teach our medical professionals in institutions of higher learning.  Those methods are widely regarded as sound (but evolving). However, the implementation of them in the every day world of patient care isn’t perfect and inevitably produces some unhappy and unhealthy patients (cue massive amounts of lobbying for tort reform.)

I realize there are holes in the comparison, especially in the amount of oversight medical boards exercise in contrast to the oversight CrossFit Inc. withholds over their affiliates.  The medical community has seemingly unending amount of regulation, and the CrossFit affiliate model does not…on purpose.  Which leads into the final and most important point.

Only the CrossFit athlete (consumer) and affiliate owners (businesses) have the power to get rid of the perception that CrossFit is dangerous and harmful. CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman has made it clear that he will not interfere with the large amount autonomy given to CrossFit affiliates.  We are not CrossFit franchises in the traditional sense; we are licensees of the name “CrossFit” and run our businesses independently.  Like any staunch libertarian, Glassman believes in the power of the free market to highlight and reward excellence, and crush anyone who cannot rise to the occasion.  Anyone with a basic understanding of markets (or any nerd who has read enough Ayn Rand) will agree in principle.  However, the speed and effectiveness in which these sorts of distinctions are made is contingent on how fervently the affiliates and athletes exercise the underlying power they’ve been given.  To put it simply, if you are a CrossFit athlete who goes to a gym that sucks and is actually putting people in danger due to any of the reasons I’ve mentioned above, you should leave.  If you’re an owner or coach and your gym has a mass exodus of members because you suck, get better. Either that, or prepare to always be lacking in success and influence.

The sooner CrossFitters are proactive about exercising the power we have to fuel the evolution of our sport, the sooner CrossFit’s name will cease to be a magnet for controversy, and the media hype factory will be forced to gain steam from the next over-exaggerated subject it can find.


-Aaron Wesson