A CrossFitter’s Dear John Letter to BodyPump
“We are never, ever getting back together”
Since I discovered CrossFit in 2013, I’ve been a complete loyalist. But let me be clear: I am not AGAINST other means to fitness. I’m all about people finding what works for them – and even I still dabble in the occasional yoga, step or spin class for fun.
Today I took a BodyPump class. It was the first time I’ve taken a group lifting class in two years although I supposed you could say that’s exactly what I do every day at CrossFit. But there is no comparison as far as I’m concerned. In fact, I found nothing but contrast.
AN HOUR COULDN’T FEEL MORE DIFFERENT
CrossFit and BodyPump last around an hour each. BodyPump moved quickly from a warm-up with weights to hitting each body part for 2-3 minutes. I started watching the clock and wondered, “How many body parts are we going to cover? How can we spend the same amount of time isolating a small muscle like a bicep as we do on legs or core”? There was nothing that pushed me to really break a sweat, raise my heart rate or leave me lying on the floor from exhaustion. A few people packed up before class even ended and the rest of us left silently when it was done.
Within that 60 minute window at CrossFit I’ve done a proper warm up, worked on mobility, performed a strength series, finished a METCON (metabolic conditioning workout) that left me breathless, cooled down, recorded my key stats and hi-fived my classmates on a job well done. Oh, and time FLEW by.
“WOD” vs. “CHOREOGRAPHY”
I was surprised to hear the instructor talk about the “choreography” of the workout. Is this dance class? Did she misspeak? But I went on their site and they confirmed. Yes! BodyPump refers to the movements as choreography. While CrossFit’s “WOD” (workout of the day) sounds silly to some, I think it sounds funnier to say “today’s choreography was just awesome”.
At CrossFit, the music usually keeps you going, but it’s about getting optimal results during the time spent working. BodyPump talks about a “musical journey” that guides and encourages participants through the work out. While this actually sounds lovely, it became a huge barrier during the workout. The movements are done to keep up to the music, not to optimize form or technique. For me, a full depth squat takes about quarter a second longer than my fellow classmates who were (at best) doing quarter squats. I fell behind to the beat and found myself trying to keep up by sacrificing my form, depth and movement patterns.
I’d much rather follow a program that allows me to perfect my form without worrying if I’m synchronized with my neighbor or hitting the drum beat on a Taylor Swift song.
LIFT HEAVY VS LIFT LIGHT
According to their site, BodyPump exhausts muscles using light weights while performing high repetitions. But is ‘exhausting muscles’ the most efficient way to build muscle and burn fat? If you asked me to hold my arms out to my sides for five minutes, I know my muscles would surely feel exhausted. But am I getting stronger? Building more lean tissue (so that I can ultimately burn more calories in a resting state)? NO!
In CrossFit we work with both light weights AND heavy weights but the magic for us comes from the programming (how the movements are combined). CrossFit uses compound exercises that require multiple muscles to work in conjunction to move a weight quickly. It also will layer one multi-joint movement with another in a workout allowing us to maintain a high level of intensity from our entire body and thus create a much greater caloric demand. This approach not only helps us get fitter but better prepares us for performing safe movements in our everyday lives.
CONSISTENCY VS VARIATION
CrossFit is defined as constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity. And it is designed to prepare you for both the expected AND unexpected demands of life. As a CrossFitter, I specialize in NOT specializing. Every workout is different – from the movements, to the loads to the time domains.
BodyPump, on the other hand, is built on the notion of consistency. Developed and released to health clubs and instructors every three months, it is no surprise everyone in the class knew what was coming next. Not only are muscle groups always worked in the same order, it also creates consistency across releases (Wikipedia’s definition, not mine). Each music track isolated and worked a specific muscle group. Put those 10 tracks together and they call it a ‘total body’ workout. We chipped away at legs, biceps and triceps and worked from the extremities and finish with the core.
CrossFit does the exact opposite, using total body movements like thrusters, snatches, pull-ups and rowing – which work your total body from CORE TO EXTREMITY – and does it with every movement. And boredom never creeps in as you never know what the next day will bring.
COACHES VS INSTRUCTORS
Talk to anyone who doesn’t CrossFit and they’ll expound the dangers and risks associated with it. Sure, the risk of injury seems less with something like BodyPump because the loads tend to be lighter, but in reality it was far greater. I was able to watch, mirror after mirror, people lifting with bad form. Stances for squats too wide, knees tracking forward and lumbar positions compromised. And after doing high volume reps with this bad form, I’d argue most will be sore, not from the weight, but because they lifted improperly. Not once did the instructor correct someone, tell them to drop the weight, reset themselves or scale movements for any individual. A few call outs to the entire class were there, but I’m sure everyone in that room thought that call out was for ‘someone else’.
But go to a great CrossFit and you will find the most knowledgeable and passionate group of coaches on a mission to perfect human movement. Proper form comes before any intensity or weight is added – and you will be under a watchful coach’s eye in a small class setting to ensure you perfect it. And when you don’t, they let you know it.
Like I said earlier, I’m not against any means of getting fit. In fact, I applaud every person who showed up for that class today. And I realize that what I experienced today was highly personal. I was boldly reminded how special CrossFit is. I’ve learned so much from it – how to move, how to REALLY challenge myself and how to get results. And I wish I could’ve grabbed everyone in that class and taken them with me to the box for the noon class.