Workouts of the day, or "WODs" (pronounced "wads"), keep CrossFit sessions varied so exercisers don’t plateau—an advantage over most strength-training regimens, which rarely change. If you go to CrossFit.com, the company's website—and the only consumer-side product produced by CrossFit, Inc.—you'll find a single WOD each day. And usually, it seems near impossible.
Wilson almost never programs the corporate WOD at Potomac CrossFit: "They're programming something [at CrossFit.com] that's so hard that the world's fittest athlete can't do it—that's in the charter," he says. Instead of doing the impossible, CrossFitters at his gym—and at the other gyms mentioned in this piece—prescribe their own WODs.
The differences between CrossFit's online presence and the gyms don't end there, and are part of what makes CrossFit divisive. One prominent strength coach would not comment on CrossFit because he says gyms that prescribe their own versions of the workouts—with progressions and regressions for different levels of athlete—aren't "really" prescribing CrossFit. The company doesn't standardize or regulate what happens in gyms bearing the CrossFit name, and for a time, there was no test for CrossFit certification—prospective coaches attended a weekend seminar, and could then practice CrossFit as they pleased. Now there’s a mandatory test at the end of the weekend, so it’s an accredited certification.
"Some CrossFit places have really great coaches, and a really great coaching staff. But other places, not so much. And where one has a problem, others suffer," says David Jack, director of Teamworks Fitness in Acton, MA. He likes the setup of CrossFit gyms, and the culture and camaraderie, but worries about outlier coaches bringing the entire brand down.
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And while CrossFit gyms are, in most cases, a welcoming, congenial community of enthusiasts who work out intensely and rationally, the online world (as it does with many activities) brings out some zealotry—CrossFit acolytes who glorify training to the point of vomiting, extreme pain, or serious injury like rhabdomyolysis, a rare but potentially fatal condition of muscle breakdown that can result from extreme exercise.
To avoid the risk of "rhabdo," as the condition is called, as well as other overuse injuries like stress fractures, Dr. Marci Anne Goolsby, Primary Care Sports Medicine Specialist at the The Hospital for Special Surgery's Women's Sports Medicine Center, says to take things gradually, and not push beyond the point of exhaustion. See joint pain as a stop sign: Muscle and bone will heal, but joints can't be strengthened by exercise, only injured, says Stephen Soloway, a rheumatologist in Vineland, NJ.