I have a very unique perspective of seeing the ins and outs of working out at a CrossFit gym for five years, for 4 to 5 days a week. Most videos or books about the topic are people who tried CrossFit for 5 days or 30 days or a week, which gives a very superficial perspective. Having seen all the pros and cons of what it’s really like to be part of the CrossFit community, this podcast episode unveils it all.
I talk about a lot of things, including pros and cons of CrossFit you never realized, how people get a lot of false ideas about it from afar (that it’s a cult, that women will look too manly, that it’s too intimidating, etc.), I talk about where it really shines from other alternatives, and where it falls short. We address some common factors like how expensive it is, injury risk, biases, the bad perception of kipping pull-ups and how outsiders falsely judge that, and a lot of interesting things you didn’t know or consider (high turnover of coaches and students, how the community is like no other and can help with mental health and self care).
There’s so much tea to spill. You’ll have to listen to the episode to find out more.
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I paid 10 times as much as friends, coworkers, and other people my age for my gym membership. And I make roughly the same amount in income as them. Well, up to ten times. If they have a cheap membership from Planet Fitness or Gold’s Gym or something similar, then yes. If they have a premium membership to a luxury gym like lifetime fitness or earth treks, I paid more than two times.
At first, this situation may seem like madness for a personal-finance junkie like me. I’ve literally written personal-finance articles for top publications like founder. Why would someone so interested in saving money for the power of compound interest willing to spend so much on the gym?
The truth is I can’t rationalize all of it. I’d much rather pay $50 a month for what I’m getting now and that would be much more reasonable. You get much less Non-barbell related equipment Then at a commercial gym.
I pay for CrossFit because of the community. I see people there I recognize every day and there usually more friendly and open to talking to fellow classmates and strangers than a commercial gym. That community helps my mental health because I got very lonely at a commercial gym. I would reach out all the time and talk to people at a commercial gym ( planet fitness, though I’ve tried others like Gold’s Gym and LA fitness with similar results ) But there would be is some distance with people are trying to make friends with. They don’t want to talk to strangers as much, they keep away, you often don’t see them again for a while, and are often in the zone wanting to get a workout in with their headphones on.
An aside reason would be for the strength gains I’ve made at CrossFit. The programming had so much barbell work that it’s almost ingrained into the culture of the gym. There’s enough experience people there to guide me and point out small problems I have with my form. When you combine that together with consistency in patients over the last three years, I’ve PRed On various lives constantly, from the back squat to the benchpress to the deadlifts. I just never got that at a commercial gym, where free weights and machines often reigns supreme. There’s something about barbell exercises that just push your muscles to work harder, plus it’s easy to track my progress and compare results. In addition, there is a competitive aspect to the sport, which pushes me to work harder.
That does come with its downsides, as I have to focus hard to not let my forms slip as I’m raising others, something I’m much more cognizant of and concerned about than other classmates. That leads me to this article, which is a comprehensive list of pros and cons. I hold nothing back. I don’t glorify CrossFit like a typical cult fanatic. I mention the good and all the bad in my three years going to the box 4 to 5 times a week.
- Strangers you meet there are friendlier than strangers at a commercial gym. It’s easier to make friends.
- On the same token, it’s easier to meet friendly people than other places. You often have people you pair up with for bench press or squats, which lets you socialize. That said, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or guaranteed.
- Something about the programming and barbell workouts stretch your muscles more and you see more muscular gains.
- You have coaches to coach you and point out things in your form that you will notice so that you don’t get injured as much and can lift more weight.
- You have classmates there that will spot you to prevent injury and help you feel safe so that you’re comfortable lifting heavier weights than normal. Rather than doing a dangerous one-rep max on your own, you have one or two people ready to spot you if asked.
- You don’t have to think about what exercises to do. The gym programs your workouts.
- If you stick with it, you’ll be more able to have a weekly fit, cardiovascular and heart health standpoint than ever before. My heart rate and blood pressure is the best it’s ever been. That’s because the metabolic workouts are often high intensity and leave you gasping for air. They don’t have the saying “embrace the suck” for no reason.
- On occasion, there are beautiful, fit women with amazing bodies present that are rare to find elsewhere unless you go to a bodybuilding gathering.
- I’ve met a couple good friends from CrossFit. And it’s been a huge contributor to my mental health because it is one of two major areas where I have a strong community, the other of which being work. I’ve tried hundreds of meet up groups at meetup.com that didn’t come up to par with making friends or forming a strong community in comparison, and CrossFit still takes my top two. Don’t underestimate community because humans are involved to seek that since we lived in hunter gatherers small tribes for most of our civilization. I met a good-looking, sociable guy at a sports league recently, and he told me how he was getting lonely, anxious, and depressed on the weekends. That’s the danger of not having a community.
- You may stumble across and network with wealthier people then you would add a standard to gym like Golds or Planet Fitness because of the high price of entry. I haven’t met anyone who has stuck out as rich. I have met middle class people with agreeable jobs like college professor, engineer, IT, marketer, and military. Just because someone is spending a lot of money on their gym doesn’t mean they’re rich. They may just allocate a lot more of their budget on CrossFit for whatever reason. I have met plenty of elementary school teachers at CrossFit.
- This one will be a con for women later, but the pro here is that you will develop masculine large back and trap muscles if you dedicate yourself to the practice for a couple years.
- At least where I live, the majority of the attendees are men. And the few women who are there have boyfriends, husbands, or usually show that they’re not interested. Results may vary a bit based on where you live.
- The woman with outstanding fit bodies, the type you may see on Instagram, are usually in the top 1% of the gym. They are rare in real life, they’re not single, and they worked there butt off.
- The price per month is insane. I’m paying twice as much as a luxury gym nearby that literally gives fancy stuff like herb infused saunas, Jacuzzis, and a water slide. Instead, as a typical CrossFit gym, you get barbell equipment, rowers, a jungle gym, and maybe kettle bells. The equipment is much less, the space you can work out is usually the size of a garage, though the one I am is the size of a gym but that’s abnormal. I’m basically paying for the community.
- Many people there are not there to actively meet people or make friends. They are there to work out and get fit and healthy and look better. Hence, you must make an active effort to put yourself out there, introduce yourself to people, and get a conversation going. Otherwise, they just stand there before the class waiting for class to begin and then they leave immediately after class.
- You use a good amount of momentum in your training — Kipping pull-ups, dumbbell snatches, Renegade rows, kettlebell swings, and so forth. You can still build a good amount of muscle using momentum since you’re still pushing yourself as hard as possible using the heaviest weight you can. But if your goals are bodybuilding, as in building as much size as possible, CrossFit makes it harder since bodybuilding is about eliminating a lot of the momentum so that you can force the muscle you want to improve to take all the load rather than rely on momentum to do the work. Also, the momentum plus the race component of CrossFit can tilt people into using bad form.
- The coach is only need a two day certification. This one is thrown around a lot on the Internet as a downside to the credibility of the coach. It’s not the most appealing thing for me for sure, though it still beats working out alone and having no one to spot your weaknesses or help you in case you can lift the bar up.
- Coaches move on from the gym on a frequent basis. You would expect the turnover to be lower considering that I heard coaches get free membership. You are literally saving 200+ dollars a month. But in my three years of CrossFit, I’ve seen dozens of coaches leave the gym and new coaches replace them for some reason. Maybe my next points can explain why.
- There’s only a few classes at specific times per day. I’m not a morning person so I can’t make the 5 AM or 6:30 AM classes. I have work so I can’t really make the noon classes or the 3 PM classes. So I have the choice between the 5:30 PM and 6:45 PM class. If I’m late or something gets in the way or have other priorities, I have to schedule around those times or skip the class. It’s a bit of an inconvenience compared to a 24 hour gym I used to go to. I had so much more flexibility and I was able to get more done whenever I wanted, which often meant late at night.
- Since equipment is limited, you may have to pair up with someone who is a lot weaker stronger, shorter, inexperienced, or taller than you, which drops the efficiency of your workouts. You have to pull off and put on weight for bench press or squat. Your partner may be impatient or believe they are “pushing hard” when they aren’t, which may rush you to tolerate much less weight than you can actually do.
- Coaches sometimes do the work out with you, so they’re less attentive to what you’re doing wrong or what you can do better. My last point may explain why. They often want to get a workout in themselves and they have limited time slots to do it.
- Some coaches aren’t the most attentive during class. This is a case by case basis and some coaches really do spend all the time and focus helping and spotting form issues with our classmates. Other coaches are a bit less attentive and may be on the phones after they explain the workout.
- As mentioned, you get less equipment then a commercial gym. You can do so much with a barbell, but if you want to hit some minor muscles with isolation work, it’s hard to do. There are some free weights available, but the selection isn’t as extensive as a commercial gym. You can, in theory, use those free weights to do reverse flies rather than a pec deck machine. But I just find a pec deck machine much more efficient, adjustable, and seamless for making gains in your rear delt.
- Some people keep their distance. And I get it. You’re just there to get a workout in, and you’re not interested. Nonetheless, I have met a lot of friendly mothers, men, and older women.
- There are social pressures to push the workouts as hard as you can go, race through them to compete with others nearby, use as much weight as you can, and compromise technique which can lead to injury. My gym has good philosophies around this and even has a big sign that says “form above all else” on the wall. It’s less pronounced, but I still feel it given that I’m competitive, the workouts are geared towards finishing faster or with more repetitions than others, the heavyweight movements, and the suggestion from some coaches to keep my body moving and to use weights on my arm even when it’s injured to keep the blood flowing and for it to heal.
- There’s a high turnover of students. A good portion of attendees to every class is new. Tons of people want to try it out for the first time and many don’t stick around after the first day, week, or month. This percentage spikes up in January to March thanks to New Year’s resolutions. Prepare to also see a handful of regulars that have showed up for months or years silently disappear … and show up in social media photos of a neighboring CrossFit gym.
- Because of the new people, coaches often have to go over movements experience people are familiar with already. Since you’re in class, you have to participate and this cuts down on productivity sometimes as you have to wait 10 or more minutes for them to train and exercise. That said, some coaches will let experienced people just set up and get going on their own.
- The Olympic lift and heavyweight movements give you a higher chance of injury. People will argue with you on this if you just using opinions, but the science behind us. The YouTuber Jeff Nippard that showed a couple research studies comparing injuries of strength lifters to those of bodybuilders. The strength lifting workouts are heavyweight, low reps. The strength group experienced many more injuries. I’ve been dealing with a wrist strain for a year and ½ now, almost 2 years. I’ve given it enough time to heal, but it won’t heal. I’ve been encouraged by coaches to keep it moving and do exercises on that arm with light weights, which may or may not be contributing to the delay in healing.
- The workouts are preprogrammed so they may not completely fit with your fitness goals. For example, Wednesdays are usually skilled days aimed at preparing you for CrossFit techniques in case you want to compete. Therefore, your learning stuff like handstand walks, handstand holds, rope clients, double under jump roping, and handstand push-ups. And CrossFit usually doesn’t do as much bench press as in a typical bodybuilding workout routine, so you may need to hit pecks on your own a bit more if you want volume there. I want to build muscle size and don’t care much for the skillwork. Hence, I either have to make extra time after a workout to hit the body parts I want to or skip class to workout on my own. This goes back to my points about freedom of working out and productivity since the gym closes at 8 o’clock, so I would have to do the 5:30 class in order to have time afterwards to get extra work in. I got a bit of friendly flack for skipping class or working out alone on occasion, probably because people are curious, concerned, or it’s not seen as normal in a class setting. It was a bit annoying, but I wasn’t too insecure about it since the experienced crossfitters are always doing their own workouts as well as other people given there since there’s open gym at these times.
- This one’s a pro for men, and a con for women. Some women don’t like how manly and large CrossFit makes their neck, back, quad, glute, and trap muscles. I agree this happens, but it takes years of dedication to develop such strength. Gaining that much muscle is not easy. It’s not a quick eight week process. I know plenty of women have been going to class for years but only twice a week that look more or less the same as when they started, but slightly more tone. Plus, I’ve learned to find these traits attractive, and many CrossFit men do too.
Overall, I think the biggest decision factor for whether or not you should do CrossFit is whether or not you enjoy it. The people who are the most jacked at the CrossFit gyms I’ve been to have almost always been the ones who absolutely love CrossFit. You can just see in their behavior. After years of doing it, there’s still going to the gym for sometimes two hours a day.
I’ve also seen a lot of people who initially seemed to be all-stars and work out a lot slowly fade away completely from attending after several months. If you are motivated by showing off, impressing others, or staying fit, those are beneficial motivators, but they’re not as nearly as strong as doing it because you enjoy it.
I personally have had huge skepticism going into CrossFit, trying a couple gyms out before committing to a one-month membership. From there, the community won me over. I already knew how to do a lot of bodybuilding exercises, so I didn’t really go there as much for education. Along the way, I found good friends and I just loved the whole idea of seeing people I knew on a regular basis that I could talk to normally, and I stumbled across a lot of barbell education that I didn’t know I needed, which has exploded my strength gains. I’ve been PRing still on many lifts three years later.
The community aspect of the CrossFit business model is so strong that I have met people who have stuck with r moved to another CrossFit gym because they love the community of that specific gym so much that they had formed strong bonds even when their significant other goes to another CrossFit gym.
There are some downsides that I’m currently willing to cope with for the benefits I get, including the price, the equipment, less flexibility with when I can exercise, and so forth. And my opinions may change in the future on if I’m still willing to pay that price.
My decision to do CrossFit is not a completely logical one. I can’t justify the high ticket price. It’s partially emotional, and I may be paying them more than I need or should for my community and mental health. But maybe not since modern American society makes it hard to create a natural, convenient, obvious form of tribal community. It beats silently repping curls at Planet Fitness or feeling lonely at home.
I will say that my brand of personal finance philosophy is about enjoying every stage of your life. It’s not about suffering so much that you hate your first half of your life so that you have saved up enough to enjoy the second half of your life. In one of Warren Buffett’s shareholder meetings, he said that he disagrees with the whole approach of skipping a trip to Disneyland with your kids so that 40 years down the line, you can add another 10 feet to your yacht. Compound interest is magical, yet more money in the future isn’t always the right answer.