CrossFit Isn't a Cult and Here's Why

STACK Expert Chris Costa provides a balanced assessment of CrossFit, acknowledging its popularity and benefits, but also advising caution against overtraining.

CrossFit Games

I'll say this upfront: I'm not a proponent of CrossFit. I believe in a more traditional, periodized, paced method of training; and when I see so many CrossFit enthusiasts push, push, push themselves in their workouts until they have nothing left, I worry. (Learn about CrossFit training.) But I also know that this kind of over-the-top intensity is not representative of every CrossFit gym or athlete. And I've also seen enough CrossFit athletes to admit that, hey, they look pretty good. Their methods do get results.

I just can't emphasize enough that overtraining is real, and that in some cases it can cause permanent damage. Even if you look great on the outside, improper technique or pushing too hard, too fast can leave you hurting inside.

All that said, one allegation often lobbed at CrossFit is categorically false: that CrossFit is a cult. It's not. How do I know?

The Pursuit of Sport

As I mentioned, when I see some CrossFit athletes train, or hear about what they do in training, I worry. And I think, Why are they putting themselves at such risk? But over time, I've come to see that CrossFit isn't just a workout to these individuals. It's their sport—even for many who won't be competing in the CrossFit Games any time soon. (Learn how to adapt CrossFit for your sport.)

People get caught up in competition—even when they're competing against themselves. But for too many athletes, playing through pain and injury is "part of the game." I'm not saying this is a correct attitude. But it's definitely not specific to CrossFit alone.

The "It" Factor

Some people think that because of its rapid growth, CrossFit is putting something in the Kool-Aid. Five years ago, no one had heard of the workout. (Watch The Evolution of CrossFit.) Now it's everywhere. That little box gym down the street that had 20 members? Those athletes trained their butts off and looked better in the mirror as a result. Now 200 people show up at the place every week. That's just what happens when people see success; they want it too. (But again, the key word here is "see." People's muscles can look great, but inside they might feel totally drained—or be injured.)

Fad or No Fad

In fitness, fads happen all of the time. Is CrossFit one of those, or is it here to stay? It's far too early to say. But there's nothing sinister about its rapid growth.

I can't stress enough to be cautious if you try CrossFit. The workouts are extremely demanding, so before you try it, make sure you're in good shape—and I mean make sure that you're fit, not just that you look good. Have your fitness tested by a non-CrossFit professional. When you're considering which box to try, find out about the coaches. Learn about their backgrounds and education. It never hurts to ask questions. Educated health professionals will have no problem telling you what they did to acquire their knowledge and experience. Only after you're comfortable with who you meet and what they think about training should you move forward and try a workout.

My fear of overtraining is real, and it's happened plenty of times in the CrossFit world. But with the right amount of research, planning, and monitoring of yourself during workouts, you can greatly reduce your chances of overtraining or getting injured with any training method.

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