Thursday, February 13, 2014

When did Figure replace Fit? Questioning the CrossFit Revolution

Becky Conzelman - USA Cyclist turned CrossFitter and mum of two!

Something occurred to me the other day as the hubby and I walked past the window of the local college gym. It was packed with students pumping iron. Mostly guys in their early 20s working on looking buff, the aim being to pack those Superdry T-shirts with as much muscle as possible. Chin ups, barbell rows and tricep dips seemed to be king, less popular were any leg exercises like squats or dead-lifts, the bread and butter of most athletes. My hubby’s only baffled comment as he looked on was “I didn’t even know where the gym was when I was in college!” and I had to agree – in fact I don’t think there was one.
Its not just guys. A new trend has emerged in women’s fitness. Something I read the other day on a women’s fitness website got me thinking about this change. Apparently “strong is the new skinny”. As more and more celebrities get into body sculpting and pumping iron, the masses follow. Much as I think lifting weights is great for women, it shouldn’t be something they do with the sole purpose of looking good. What happened to feeling good, like enjoying the buzz of endorphins you get from aerobic exercise? It’s concerning that women are getting into weights just to enhance their optics while cardiovascular and functional fitness, which is so much more important, seems to be taking a backseat.
This shift is epitomized by the recent phenomenon of CrossFit, a workout regime based on Olympic weight lifting and other strength exercises. It purports to be about getting fit, but when you scratch the surface what it’s really about is making your body look good. It’s not just CrossFit, but gyms everywhere who are fueling the craze. After all there is a lot more money to be made from people lifting weights in a gym then when they go for a run in the great outdoors at no cost.
I’m not sure if the CrossFit revolution is a symptom or the cause of this shift, but all of a sudden you can’t get a squat rack in the local gym for love or money. Olympic lifting is now considered the thing. Moves that were once a dark art practiced only by a minority of hardcore weightlifters, are now fodder for the masses. People can drop words like snatch and jerk into everyday conversations without getting shocked looks or being admonished for using foul language!

To satisfy my curiosity, I went to the CrossFit site to look at the open workouts. These are a series of routines that enable CrossFitters world-over to flex their muscles at each other. Each routine is made up of a number of different strength / weightlifting exercises, the aim being to complete as many reps as possible in a given time frame. As I watched an impressively muscled girl do push presses, dead lifts and box jumps over and over, I wondered why it didn’t sit quite well with me. After all, I did many of those exact moves as part of my routine in the gym. Then I realized what was – the driving force behind it was body sculpture.

 It made me think about my training and why I do it. What I do is functional training, every lift or plyometric exercise is about getting stronger. To go faster.  Simple as that. The stronger I am, the more power I can deliver into my bike to propel it forward. This is what I’m thinking about when I’m at the bottom of a squat in the gym trying to summon the strength to return to the start position. Each to their own, but I would like to go back to that gym and ask Superdry  guy,"what are you here for? To look good, to feel good or to be good at your sport?" I think I would know the answer.


  1. I think your on basis is showing. I ensure you there are lots of people in there getting strong for a variety of sports.

    I'm there to get good at my _sports_ and if I can feel good and look good in the process...

    1. Thank you for your comment . The point I am getting at is not whether people are getting strong or not, but whether they are getting fitter. Fitness relates to cardio irrespective of strength and conditioning. I am of course biased and my own gym work is to support what I do in relation to my sport. I suppose what I am questioning is why more so on the female side of things , that exercise regimes seem to be linked to diets as in eating less, while the men more tend to go for the protein shakes. Think that might be what my next blog will be about :-)

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  2. Form follows function.

    And at the CF gym I go to, I see a lot more people worried about getting in better condition than trying to look buff.

    Personally, one of the major reasons I go isn't to look better, but rather to get in better shape for senior league hockey. Sure, dropping my body fat % has happened. But, I'm much more interested in the performance results from that as opposed to "trying to get ripped".

    Honestly, I am too old and have too much loose skin to worry about that anyway. And I'd rather spend money on hockey gear than plastic surgery.

  3. Hey none of us stand up to too much scrutiny! All sorts of people go to gyms for all sorts of reasons. The article sets out to question whether the focus is changing from fitness to just looking good, which of course is a by product of fitness anyway. The worry being that if someone looks good, then they have no need for fitness which we all know to be untrue

  4. I used to work in a public gym and have seen many people training for various reasons. It also depends on which gym you go to (college gym, gym at work, public gym). I'd say most women in public gyms would be in for weight loss and toning. Of course there are also others who are using the machines to get fitter in their chosen sport. You don't have to go to the gym to get fit and fast in a certain sport, but its convenient for the busy lifestyle nowadays. Years ago a gym was mainly there for athletes to support their specific training. Today its also there to compromise our sedentary lifestyle and simply to keep us in shape. A lot of women won't take the time off to go for a proper long run or spin on the bike. Its convenient to hop into the gym next door for a quick session. They might not do a super workout, but they do something for their health.

    And, yes, getting fit and looking good goes hand in hand. Trying to look good doesn't have to be a by-product, it can be (and often is) the main reason, too.

    At the moment I am using the gym to maintain some of my fitness as I find it a very safe environment for exercising while pregnant. I was fine going climbing and running until I was 6 month pregnant, but then I had to change my focus and trying to find exercise which I could still do with the growing bump, varicose veins and the likes.