Despite being one of the most controversial exercise methods of the decade, CrossFit, the branded workout combing high-intensity interval training with everything from Olympic weightlifting to gymnastics, has achieved cult-like status in the fitness world.
While fans attest to its effectiveness in aiding in everything from weight loss to improving strength and endurance, its adversaries — including world-renowned health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels — have a number of problems with it.
Michaels recently slammed the popular workout in a video for Shape, so we decided to reach out to her in order to understand the specifics of her beef with the fitness phenomenon that is CrossFit.
"Any workout can be dangerous if the individual isn't conditioned for it properly and if the instruction is poor," Michaels, author of the newly published "The 6 Keys: Unlock Your Genetic Potential for Ageless Strength, Health, and Beauty," explains to LIVESTRONG.com. "With CrossFit, however, the risk is that much greater because it's an extreme, high intensity workout that borrows movements from Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and many other sports that require tremendous instruction, skill, and supervised practice to execute safely and efficiently."
Here are five reasons Michaels wants you to stay away from CrossFit:
The Exercises Are Too Complicated for the Average Person
Michaels explains that CrossFit is just too intense for the general public. "The everyday athlete is not only asked to do complicated, complex, incredibly high intensity exercises (as mentioned above) they are asked to do them for a specific amount of time, doing as many reps as possible in a time frame," she says. Even more worrisome? "They are often performed in a fatigued state, which is not how any of those fitness modalities like gymnastics or Olympic lifts were meant to be done!"
Instructor Certification Isn’t Rigorous Enough
Michaels points out that to teach CrossFit classes, an individual only has to complete a weekend certification program. "This to me can be a recipe for disaster and we have all seen the CrossFit "fail" compilation videos on Youtube or Instagram — arguably for all the above reasons," she says.
CrossFit Training Logic Doesn’t Make Sense
Michaels admits that she doesn't understand CrossFit training logic — and has never gotten any clear answers on it.
Amongst her questions: Why are prescribed WODs (workout of the day) often uniform when it comes what weights each gender should lift — and why is this not ALWAYS prescribed on an individual basis? Why perform one exercise or two exercises doing "as many reps as possible" in seven minutes?
"My list of 'why's' when it comes to popular CrossFit WODs goes on and on and I have yet to be given any reasoning for how those workouts make an athlete better," she explains. "How is the workout individualized? How is it designed to progress an athlete? How is it offering a balanced approach to fitness? How is recovery being programmed?"
There Is No Time for Recovery
Michaels also has issue with the fact that CrossFit doesn't seem to make significant efforts to build in recovery days. "Exercise is stress and high intensity exercise is obviously that much more stressful on the body," she explains. "In order for fitness to not just be safe, but also more effective, proper planned recovery is key so the body can maximize its stress adaptation response."
Therefore, she doesn't believe that doing Crossfit workouts several days in a row allows the body much time to heal from the workout, pointing out that things like stress fractures, strains, or even rhabdomyolysis can occur because of overexercising.
Not Enough Variety
Because CrossFit has a limited number of key exercises, if someone is a devotee and only goes to their CrossFit box for their fitness regimen, Michaels points out that in addition to increasing the risk of repetitive stress injuries, the opposite can happen. "Your body can adapt to those same movements and progress can actually slow over time," she explains.
Instead, she likes to train muscles with as much variety as possible, using as many angles of push and pull as you can incorporate over your training regimen to utilizing as many modalities of fitness — balance, speed, strength, power, agility, mobility — possible to train the muscles. "Studies show repeatedly that variety is a crucial factor in building a well rounded athlete that is not prone to injury and progresses at an accelerated pace," she adds.
So What Does She Recommend Instead?
In general, Michaels suggests avoiding any extreme endurance sports or races, as they are "unnecessary and potentially harmful" for your everyday athlete. "While it's true that some people are built for these types of activities, most aren't," she explains, "and the repetitive stress of regularly running marathons or biking hundreds of miles in a week can be extremely hard on the human body."
Fortunately, she reveals that the latest trend in fitness is more focused on training smarter not necessarily harder. "I'm all for high intensity workouts, but when I program them I always program recovery days and utilize muscle splits focused on function to avoid overtraining," she says. "I balance them out with different types of training regimens so the muscles aren't constantly getting hammered with speed, strength, and power but also agility, flexibility and endurance."