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Doctors, Stop Telling People Not To Do CrossFit

too hard

This screen shot was shared by Rob Attenborough, frustrated owner of Fraser Coast CrossFit.

“My doctor says I need to do something else, that I’m not ready for CrossFit.” As a CrossFit gym owner, I’ve heard this so many times, and I want to scream every time I do. It’s one of the most commonly discussed things in various Facebook groups for gym-owners. We’re sitting here looking at a massive epidemic in lifestyle-related illness, which can be ameliorated with fitness and nutrition, and doctors are telling patients that CrossFit is too hard for them.

It feels like just another way for a doctor to tell a struggling patient that they aren’t good enough. It’s another way that a doctor will ignore a patient’s holistic health, writing them off as “fat” and therefore ignoring everything else. It’s a total absence of faith, trust and respect for what that patient is capable of. What they are worth as a person.

And it’s the exact (fucking) opposite of what we do in CrossFit gyms across the country. You come into a CrossFit gym and 99% of us will look at you and say, “I’m so glad you’re here, let’s get started.” (I’m allowing for 1% of people who are just assholes, I assume we’ve got those too.)

Look, I get it, CrossFit has a shit reputation. I blame The CrossFit Games, because they get all the attention. The CrossFit Games is what’s on TV, and when people think of CrossFit athletes, that’s who they think of. But that’s the Olympics of CrossFit.

That would be like telling all the hundreds of thousands of people who swim for fitness that they shouldn’t bother, because really, they’re no Michael Phelps. You shouldn’t run because, really, what are your chances of winning Boston? And tennis, I mean, dude, have you seen Serena Williams play? Don’t bother. You see what I’m saying, right?

CrossFit is NOT The CrossFit Games. We’re just not. There are millions of people who do CrossFit every day around the world. 40 of them are going to The Games. I don’t do math, but that’s not a big percentage.

What we are is tens of thousands of gyms around the world who serve millions of people with workouts based on constantly varied functional movements done at high intensity. We work their muscles, their joints and their cardiovascular systems. We get people stronger in every way. You don’t have to want to compete, just be healthy, that’s all. It’s not about winning, or even competing. It’s about life.

So, why are doctors dissing CrossFit? Why are they just telling patients, essentially, “change your lifestyle, completely” but then leaving them on their own to do that? Docs, look, whatever they’ve been doing isn’t working for them, that’s why you’re telling them to make big changes. They need support.

Support is what we do.

I know that in the last 7 years, I’ve seen people go off blood-pressure meds, diabetes meds, get their A1C levels into the normal range without meds, even go off of meds for depression and anxiety. I’d be willing to put the success rate of CrossFit in general up for comparison of that with the doctors who are telling their patients not to do CrossFit.


Any random day at Rocket CrossFit, awesome people fitnessing together.

Are we a magic pill? No. But that’s okay, because most of us don’t believe in magic pills. Most of us believe that it’s hard as fuck to change your life this way, which is why we do it together. We know that making life-changes is hard, and that the people who can do it generally have a supportive community around them. That’s what we are. We are that community.

We’re also teachers. And protectors. And accountability.

Let’s break it down. Let’s take an amalgam of people who I’ve personally worked with over the last 7 years. Let’s call them Jo. Jo is, according to your medical guidelines, 75 pounds “overweight.” (We can bitch about that in another blog post, because “thin” does NOT equal “healthy.”) Jo hasn’t exercised in years, in no small part because throughout their life they’ve been told that they’re “fat” and “not good enough” in a variety of ways. They have a lot of shame around their body, and sure as shit don’t know how to use it.

They know they’re fat. Every ad, TV show and random stranger on the street tells them so in words and in sneers.

And they come to you and you say “you’re fat. Fix it.”

So now they also feel lost, helpless and alone.

Great. Maybe they go to some big gym and hop on the treadmill. But that’s boring and hard to keep doing because it’s mind-numbing. They look at the weights, but don’t know what to do with them. They look at the classes, but feel bad about trying one because they’re afraid they’ll get lost.

They have a friend who says “My CrossFit gym is great, they can totally work with you.” So they call you, their doctor, and you say “that’s too hard for you.”  (The translation of that, by the way, is “you’re not good enough.”)

DUDE! Okay, I’m going to assume that you just don’t understand what we do.

In 95% of the CrossFit gyms in the world, you will see people of all ages, all shapes, all sizes, all genders and all skill levels working together. I know you will at Rocket, and every gym I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to CrossFit gyms all over the world.)

You will see classes that are coached from start to finish. A coach that shows people how to move in the most basic way, from stretching to gymnastics to weight-training. A coach who will help Jo scale a move that they can’t do in a way that is safe for them. A coach that can not only push a little, but also tell Jo to slow down, because going too far too fast when you get started can cause injury and burnout, and we’re in it for the long-haul. And you’ll see people who encourage Jo, and say “we’ll see you on Thursday,” which does a whole lot to make sure that Jo comes back on Thursday.

All of that keeps your patient, Jo, both encouraged and safe. As opposed to if Jo just watched a Youtube video and then tried to do it in a gym on their own.

You will also generally find a group within that CrossFit gym that is focused on nutrition. Most of us don’t push nutrition on everyone, but we do make clear that we’re here to help you with that too, if you want. At Rocket, for instance, we do a nutritional challenge 3 times a year. Like everything else we do, we scale it to meet you where you’re at. So if Jo has been eating a typical American diet of highly processed and carb-heavy food, and is scared, we won’t tell them they need to go hardcore right off the bat. Why? Because that sets them up for failure. Instead, we’ll let them scale their nutrition challenge to something that is impactful, but possible. Our baseline for everyone is no sugar and no booze. If you add that to working out 3x a week with a supportive community, you can change Jo’s life.

Why would you tell them not to do that?

Let me guess at some of your concrete fears.

You’re afraid they’ll get injured. Sure, that’s always possible. However, the risk of them getting injured doing modified workouts with an experienced coach are far less than if they try to go it alone. (And the risk of them doing nothing is even greater.)

You’re afraid that CrossFit will be too hard. Nope. We scale EVERYTHING. My daughter does 30” box jumps, I do 16” box jumps, we have members who do 3” box jumps, and still other who just do air squats. Can’t do Pull Ups? Not that many people can, especially when they start. That’s why we do Ring Rows. Can’t run because of joint impact? Great, here’s a stationary bike, or a rower, or a ski erg. There is literally no workout that we can’t modify for Jo. Or Pat. Or Sam. Or…..

Look, here’s my invitation to you: If you are a doctor in Seattle, where I am, get in touch with me through Rocket, and I will invite you to come spend time in our gym and watch how we do what we do. I will do anything in my power to help you understand that we are your greatest ally in getting your patients healthy. More so than any pill, or any lecture. If you’re not in Seattle, I WILL FIND YOU A CROSSFIT GYM THAT WILL HOST YOU and show you what we do.

We always tell our members that we are stronger together. Together we can do anything. I’m now saying that to all the doctors out there who don’t understand what we do. Call me, I will show you, we are stronger together. Together, we can save lives.

I’m not a doctor, and I won’t pretend to be one. But I know that what we do works, because I’ve trained hundreds (maybe thousands) of people over the last 7 years. And I’ve seen lives changed in ways that no one – including doctors and our members – thought possible.

The converse is also true, you are not a trainer. Please don’t pretend that you know how I do my job.

Let’s work together. Please. I send my members to you guys all the time, for all sorts of reasons. Because I know that we make a great team.

We are stronger together.


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