On a weekly basis we get called a CrossFit gym. We’re not. It doesn’t matter though, people see some artificial turf and someone doing a snatch and to them, that’s CrossFit. Even though we have a FAQ addressing this very topic, without fail someone makes a comment about us being a CrossFit gym. At the risk of sounding rude, if this is what you believe, then you don’t know much about the fitness world, but that’s okay, because I’m here to help educate you! Sometimes when our clients get asked what is different about us compared to CrossFit, they don’t know how to answer, because a lot of them don’t know what CrossFit is either, so this will be just as informative for them as it will be for you.
CrossFit: A Brief History
CrossFit was started by a man named Greg Glassman in the late 90s; a former collegiate gymnast, Glassman gained popularity with his lone gym in Santa Cruz, California by training police, firemen, and first responders with high paced circuit training. His training techniques gained even more ground when he began to freely publish his workouts on CrossFit’s website. The workouts were minimalist, meaning you didn’t need much (if any) equipment to participate. This was genius because it allowed people all over the country to check the website and then do the workout at home, or at their local gym without any issue. Glassman encouraged participants to post their scores to the comments section of each workout. Most CrossFit workouts are “scored” either by how fast you completed the workout, or how many rounds or reps you were able to do in a set amount of time. In my personal opinion, this was the single most important thing in the growth of CrossFit…it appealed to people’s competitive nature. Imagine logging on to a website every day and finding a new workout and you could see how you stacked up against thousands of other people in the country. This was exactly the spark the lazy, out of shape, and forgotten former high school and college sports-stars needed to re-purpose themselves and get motivated to get fit, and it sparked a new wave in the fitness industry.
Fast forward a few years and CrossFit began selling affiliation rights (the first opened in 2002 and by 2009 there were 1,000 gyms). This means you can pay a sum of money to become a CrossFit gym. An affiliation is similar to a franchise but it has less structure and less regulation. For example if you are the owner of a McDonalds franchise, Mcdonalds Corporation controls your menu, how you cook your food, your uniforms, etc…but an affiliation just gives you the rights to use the name as long as you meet some minimum requirements, in the case of CrossFit I believe it’s having at least one coach with their level 1 certification. Today there are over 13,000 CrossFit gyms in the world: We are not, have never been, and will never be one of them. When you go to McDonalds and buy a Cheeseburger in New Hampshire, it’s going to be exactly the same as the Mcdonald’s Cheeseburger you get in Florida, or in California. The same cannot be said of CrossFit. You could go to one CrossFit in town, and have a completely different experience at the one right down the street. From the class schedule, to the workouts, to the equipment, the qualifications and experience of the staff, the price, the billing procedure, etc… it will all be different from one CrossFit gym to the next.
Aside from the fact that we are not a CrossFit affiliate, there are quite a few things that make us different, and that starts with the training
1. Classes vs. Individual Training
First and foremost, the majority of CrossFit gyms do class based fitness. There are no group classes at Arkitect. In a group fitness class, the coach comes up with a workout for that particular day, and everyone who comes through the gym does that exact same workout, sometimes with slight modifications to make it easier or harder for the individual’s fitness level. At Arkitect, everyone gets their own program made specifically for them. Their program is planned out a minimum of 4 weeks at a time, not day by day. Some CrossFit gyms are starting to offer more individualized training programs. They are beginning to realize that they are more effective than group based programs and produce better results for the client. The downside for the gym: they are more time consuming to run, and have a smaller profit margin. Arkitect operates in an open gym format with 24 hour access, meaning you come whenever you want, not during a specific class time or hours of operation.
2. Training Principles
Although CrossFit gyms are free to run whatever kind of program they choose, most utilize high intensity interval training as the backbone of their training. Most also use a scoring system as mentioned previously. Crossfit defines itself as “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains.” At Arkitect we use strength training as the basis of our programs. That’s not to say we don’t use a wide variety of exercises and techniques, we certainly do, but we don’t constantly vary them for the sake of variation. We treat fitness as a skill and everything in our gym is a progression. Once you master a basic skill, you move on to something more challenging and complex, and so on and so forth. The structure of the program may also vary greatly depending on the goals of the client. If you take a look at one of our high school volley ball player’s programs, it’s going to look nothing like the program for a client that wants six pack abs and 17″ biceps. Strength training compared to high intensity training has also been shown to have a greater effect on performance, power output, metabolism, etc…We utilize high intensity interval training at Arkitect (a technique athletes have been using for decades), but we don’t make it the foundation of our training like most CrossFit gyms do.
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3. Exercise Selection
CrossFit has deemed certain exercises as “functional” and many as “non functional.” They favor all the traditional barbell movements (Snatch, Clean & Jerk, Squats, Deadlifts, etc…) gymnastics techniques (handstands, muscle-ups and other ring work, etc…) athletics training techniques (sled pushing, jumping rope, med ball work), and endurance training techniques (rowing, running, cycling). All of these things exist outside of CrossFit, and existed before CrossFit. How these techniques are utilized makes a big difference. Yes we teach “Olympic” Weightlifting at Arkitect (to those who want to learn it), as do many CrossFit gyms, but saying that makes us CrossFit is like saying anyone who goes for a jog is doing CrossFit, since many CrossFit workouts include running. You won’t find us teaching kipping pull-ups or GHD sit-ups, two staples of CrossFit programs. We don’t use Olympic Weightlifting techniques in high rep formats, which make up two of CrossFit’s most popular workouts.We teach a Russian style kettlebell swing, Crossfit teaches an “American” style swing. CrossFit disregards isolation exercises like curls, vilifies machine training, and whatever else doesn’t fall under their definition of “functional” At Arkitect we take a “keep as many tools in your tool box as possible” approach. We use whatever means necessary to get our clients (safely) to their goals. That means if you don’t care about your max back squat, and just want sexier arms, we’re probably going to throw those cable tricep pushdowns in your program. There are many other differences, but these are just some examples.
CrossFit officially endorses the Zone Diet, and unofficially follows the Paleo diet and/or The Whole 30. The latter two have long lists of “unacceptable” foods that are “unclean” and eating them is nearly considered sin. At Arkitect we promote a flexible dieting strategy that’s based on an overwhelming amount of science that shows calories are the number one factor in changing body composition. While we encourage clients to eat whole, unprocessed foods because they are dense in vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients, and aare difficult to overeat, we can still make room for so called “bad foods” that we enjoy without having a guilt trip about it afterwards, or being totally thrown off of our nutritional game plan. For more information about how our nutrition program works, click here.
CrossFit has their own lingo, they call their workouts WODs, the gyms themselves are referred to as “boxes” they call the sport of Weightlifting “Oly Lifting” and the shoes Weightlifters wear “lifters.” They use phrases like “chipper” and “AMRAP” to describe the types of workouts they do. When you “Rx” a workout that means you did it to the standard set by the coach without having to make any modifications to make it easier to complete. They have their own fashion, from no shirts or sports bras, to board shorts and minimalist shoes. They LOVE their special CrossFit marketed supplements from companies like Fitaid, Progenex, and Blonyx. At Arkitect you will find a diverse group of people who all dress and talk differently, and have wildly varying goals. We are a small independant gym, so there really is no global trend for our clients to follow.
Which is Better?
We get this question a lot, and the way I like to answer it is: We’re not better than CrossFit, we’re different. It’s also important to acknowledge that since there is little to no quality control in CrossFit affiliates, the experience from to another can be very different. There are some CrossFit gyms in the country run by physical therapists and other highly educated people, and there are some run by people who went to a weekend certification and then opened a gym. But I digress… There are those who need group fitness classes to keep them motivated. For those people, Arkitect is not the right gym. There are some people that are exercising just to exercise, and thus tend to put entertainment above any particular results, again, a “constantly varied” or “randomized” or “workout of the day” approach might be better suited for them. Arkitect exists to fill a big hole in the fitness marketplace. Most people’s options are a typical globo gym with tons of equipment and zero direction, a group fitness program that allows you to work with a coach but you’re on a generic mass dispersed program, or lastly personal training, which is individualized, but can get incredibly expensive in the long term. We are an amalgamation of the three:
- Come whenever you want (like a traditional globo gym)
- Coaches on staff during prime training hours to coach you through your workouts (at a similar cost of a group training program)
- Individualized program written specifically for YOU (like personal training)
CrossFit claims that the needs of Olympians and the needs of our Grandparents vary by intensity and not by type. In other words, your grandmother should be doing clean & jerks, just like an Olympic skier, just with less weight. We couldn’t disagree more. In fact, the needs of an Olympic skier vary greatly to that of an Olympic Weightlifter. Our programs are address individual weaknesses and personal goals. If you’re training to race a triathlon, why would your training program look the same as someone trying to become a champion Weightlifter?
Onward and Upward
Arkitect Client Gunnar Mattson on his way to the Silver Medal at the USAW Regional One Championship
There is no denying the impact CrossFit has had on the world of fitness. I may not agree with many of their approaches, but they exposed millions of people to a type of training that has long existed outside of the traditional globo gym model but went largely unnoticed by the public. I began my own training at the age of 12 in a grimy, dirty dungeon gym, and many of the fundamental strength training principles I learned there I still employ today. It’s tough to beat the basics! But CrossFit has drawn in so many more people into this world that it has had a positive effect on nearly everyone involved. It’s shined a huge light onto the sport I love (Weightlifting), it has created a demand for strength & conditioning equipment that previously didn’t exist, driving down prices for consumers and bringing new products to the market. CrossFit has brought some of the best and brightest minds in fitness out of the wood work. Even though many of those people have nothing to do with CrossFit, it has afforded them an opportunity to make themselves and their methods known, which pushes the fitness industry forward as a whole. And CrossFit has undergone its own evolution, now creating a new kind of “sport”, one which we at Arkitect have nothing to do with, and if one were interested in training to be a competitive CrossFit athlete, we would likely tell them that we aren’t the right gym for them. There are no coaches in our facility who are CrossFit certified or have even been clients of a CrossFit gym. My personal experience with CrossFit dates all the way back to 2007 when I met a few guys at Gold’s Gym in York PA who were personal trainers and were planning to open a CrossFit affiliate. They eventually went on to open the 396th CrossFit gym in the world (CrossFit York). I would meet them at Gold’s in the morning and do “WODs” with them. I enjoyed the challenge, but didn’t see how that type of training was sustainable long term, and still thought strength training to be superior. Ironically CrossFit has undergone a major shift over the last ten years, and is constantly incorporating more and more strength training into their programming and their competitions.
It will be interesting to see where CrossFit goes from here, and what effect it will have on the fitness world in general, but it’s imprortant to remember that CrossFit didn’t invent the wheel, they simply took many pre-existing training methods and spun their own take on it, and at the end of the day CrossFit is whatever the owner of each particular affiliate wants it to be. That means more than anything that CrossFit is first and foremost a brand, making the easiest way to know if you’re doing CrossFit or not, is to check the sign on your way through the front door.