“I love the craziness and intensity but I do not enjoy being sore and in pain all the time,” says Ashana Beria, 28, explaining her decision to stop CrossFit training in April. The marketing executive had taken to CrossFit last November when she moved to Chicago with her new job.
In Mumbai, 39-year-old businessman Dalvir Singh Nagi thoroughly enjoyed CrossFit, but, after about a year of training, discontinued his membership at his local box. He was worried about the long durations of workouts at a very high heart rate. “I was genuinely scared about heart attacks after one point,” says Nagi, who adds that the workouts did help him get fit and get into shape.
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Tanya Rocque, 28, quit CrossFit when she felt she’d plateaued with the high-rep and quick-paced workouts. She felt that this mode of training wasn’t helping her achieve her goal of toning up her body. “I was putting on muscle without burning the fat I had. I realised that I was recruiting and working out entirely different muscle groups from what my goals required. If only CrossFit had a better cardio balance, I might have continued with it,” she says. Rocque, who’s based in Goa, now does pilates, HIIT and aerial yoga.
Is CrossFit too unpredictable?
It’s not just fitness enthusiasts, even CrossFit coaches often recognise the shortcomings of the training and drop the bits they have a problem with. One of CrossFit's tenets is to keep the training unpredictable and random so people can develop a diverse range of physical abilities, says AK Abhinav, a fitness professional in Bengaluru. “This seems enjoyable initially as you feel that you don’t have to worry too much about what exercises to perform and the progression that needs to be followed. (But) Once you build a good fitness foundation, it is virtually impossible to follow unstructured training to achieve specific goals,” he says. The diminishing returns of “unstructured” training, explains Abhinav, is one of his reasons for moving away from CrossFit.
Certain CrossFit moves can also be problematic. Charlie Makkos, coach and founder of Gazi CrossFit in Athens, Greece, found that ‘kipping’, a technique that CrossFitters use to speed up repetitions by utilising the body’s momentum in exercises such as pull-ups, often resulted in injuries. “I have stopped kipping and have switched to strict movements used in calisthenics… I find that is safer for me and I have stayed injury-free since I made the switch,” says Makkos.
Abhinav’s break from CrossFit was complete when he signed up for a weightlifting camp held by Dimitry Klokov, a former world champion and an Olympics silver medal winner for Russia. “The Eastern method of weightlifting protocols seemed far superior in terms of ensuring safety and also its transfer to other athletic movements like sprinting and jumping. I cannot remember a training-related injury or extreme soreness because of randomised workout volume in my gyms since making the shift,” says Abhinav.
Bulking up and coronary concerns
Some women CrossFitters complain that the training routine ends up working at cross-purposes to their goals, especially if that is burning fat. As mentioned earlier, Rocque's concern was that she was gaining muscle without losing fat. Similarly, Beria was so alarmed by the fact that she was bulking up that one day when her work shirt and jacket did not fit, that she panicked and called her friends. “I was becoming so big around my shoulders and upper back that I didn’t like it at all. That was the opposite of my goal,” she says.
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Among men, the biggest concern about CrossFit remains injury, followed by the strict schedule, and concerns about elevated heart rates. Nagi’s biggest grouse with CrossFit was the strict timings. With his business demanding uncertain hours, he found it difficult to make it to the CrossFit session every day by 8pm. And CrossFit isn’t cheap anywhere in the world, so missing sessions does pinch.
His other concern was developing a heart issue. “I feel CrossFit is great for those in their 20s and early 30s but not advisable in the long run. Since all CrossFit workouts involve performing at a very high heart rate for sustained periods of time, I was wary of developing heart issues in the long run,” Nagi says. A 2017 study by University of Illinois at Chicago backs up Nagi’s concerns. The researchers found that individuals who performed three times the recommended physical activity guidelines over 25 years had higher odds of developing coronary issues by middle age.
Still a CrossFitter at heart
However, despite moving away from CrossFit, most CrossFitters retain a fondness for the training method and often return to it. Nagi continues to follow CrossFit routines at home albeit at much lower intensities and at his own pace. “There is no race to get on the leaderboard,” he says.
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Beria has her mind set on returning to CrossFit for a month in July. She misses the “madness” and wants to gain back some muscle and enjoy the community feeling that CossFit provides. As for Rocque, when everything shut down and she was stuck at home without equipment during the first lockdown last March, she immediately turned to bodyweight workouts from CrossFit.
Guess you can take a CrossFitter out of the Box but can’t take you can’t CrossFit out of them.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.