Let’s Talk About CrossFit Part 2/2

In my first post about CrossFit I talked about what I like and do not like about CrossFit, in this post I would like to discuss some of the negatives others have to say about CrossFit.

rhabdo

Background

Want to read some stuff that may make you think twice about CrossFit:

Next up, I will go through the major concerns raised in articles like the ones cited above.

CrossFit causes rhabdomyolysis

What is rhabdomyolysis (often called rhabdo)?

Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood. These substances are harmful to the kidney and often cause kidney damage. — U.S. National Library of Medicine

What causes rhabdo?

Rhabdomyolysis may be caused by injury or other any condition that damages skeletal muscle. Problems that may lead to this disease include:

  • Trauma or crush injuries
  • Use of drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, statins, heroin, or PCP
  • Genetic muscle diseases
  • Extremes of body temperature
  • Ischemia or death of muscle tissue
  • Low phosphate levels
  • Seizures or muscle tremors
  • Severe exertion, such as marathon running or calisthenics
  • Lengthy surgical procedures
  • Severe dehydration — U.S. National Library of Medicine

Why is rhabdo associated with CrossFit?

CrossFit exercises often require you to push yourself hard by doing many repetitions of different exercises with weights usually for time. CrossFit does not deny that rhabdo can happen during a workout and the inside joke amongst CrossFitters is the rhabdo clown (pictured at the beginning of this post). Now, rhabdo is serious and I will talk about factors that could increase the likelihood of developing rhabdo, but be aware that rhabdo is knowingly pushing YOURSELF beyond the point of exhaustion and physical pain. This is not to say that others may not be encouraging to go faster, push harder and complete one more rep, but developing rhabdo in most circumstances means knowingly continuing to push yourself when you know you should stop.

Should the concern for rhabdo stop you from doing CrossFit?

Absolutely not! Of course, you should check with your doctor before starting any exercise program to ensure you are healthy and do not have any risk factors that may increase the likelihood of becoming hurt.

CrossFit is unsafe

Compared to what?

Now some may not go as far as to say CrossFit is unsafe, but instead would raise the concern about the number of injuries reportedly caused by CrossFit. First and foremost, no scientific, verified study has been performed to back up the claim that CrossFit is unsafe or that CrossFit causes a large number of injuries. Second, injuries can happen in a variety of settings for a variety of reasons. CrossFit focuses on gymnastics and olympic lifting — both of which require complex movements. Exercises often consist of many reps with weight for time. Given that overtime a person is likely to become more and more tired, this can lead to fatigue, potential reduced technique and potential increased risk of injury.

Going back to rhabdo, this is no different from a marathon runner. A marathon runner trains to be able to complete the race just like a CrossFit athlete trains to complete a RX workout. Anyone could attempt to complete an activity that is out of their ability and doing so may lead to injury. Again, there may be factors outside of your control, but a majority of the situations that could lead to injury can be prevented by YOU.

Says who?

Why I don’t do CrossFit… Why? Because Olympic and power lifts are not meant to be done in sets of 30 or for time. — Why I Don’t Do CrossFit

Some olympic lifters have spoken out against CrossFit (and many have spoken in favor of CrossFit). The concerns raised are that olympic lifts requires years of skill and technique practice and are not for everyone. In addition, some olympic lifters believe that olympic lifts were never meant for high repetition, timed workouts.

I believe that both points are extremely valid. Speaking from the experience of learning how to perform olympic lifts, technique is key and it takes A LOT of practice. In addition, there is no way one could perform max lifts for reps in a timed fashion. CrossFit workouts consist of teaching before actually working. Many times the teaching involves breaking down the lifts, working on technique and lots of practice. This is not to say that all CrossFit trainers are in a position to teach olympic lifts nor that every athlete gets the individual attention they need.

When it comes to actually doing the workout, anything can be scaled. This means that the weight can be adjusted as needed. If an athlete is using too much weight then the likelihood of injury is increased. Other factors may influence the weight decision of the athlete, but the athlete is in the best position to assess ability (while the coach is in the best position to correct technique and suggest/enforce modifications).

CrossFit emphasises speed and weight, not technique

I have already said this a few times in this post, CrossFit workouts often consist of high repetitions with weight for time. I also previously discussed how olympic lifts require a lot of skill and technique. Finally, I mentioned that CrossFit does start by demonstrating the movements, breaking them down and encouraging practice. If you add this up, you may come to the conclusion that CrossFit does teach technique, but nowhere near the level of an olympic lifting instructor and CrossFit pushes high repetitions of movement that are extremely complex. I would completely agree.

I believe this perception, which in many ways is a reality, is a weakness of CrossFit and the cause for a good portion of the concern raised about it. CrossFit understands the problem, CrossFit trainers understand the problem, but the program is built around a model of one hour workouts in an instructor-lead group fashion. Now opportunities inside and outside of CrossFit boxes exist to overcome this limitation and many boxes require what is often referred to as “foundation” training, but at the end of the day the responsibility falls to the athlete to ensure technique is learned and applied while striking the right balance of speed and weight.

CrossFit trainers are not properly educated

All CrossFit trainers are required to get certified. The certification process is arguably not that in-depth so the expertise level of your trainer may vary. Also, different trainers have different approaches to coaching. You as an athlete are responsible for ensuring you are getting the best coaching. The number of hours of training, the number of certificates and the fitness level of the trainer does not ensure a quality and safe training experience. Arguably, CrossFit does not make it easy to distinguish a good CrossFit trainer from a bad one. If there are perceived risks to doing CrossFit then having quality trainers is key. If you want to reduce any perceived risk then you need to do your research: check the web, check the trainer credentials, talk to your friends. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your fitness and health.

Summary

Like many things in life, CrossFit comes with benefits and risks. This most important things to remember are:

  • You should always check with a doctor before starting a fitness program and you should check with your doctor if you have any concerns about your health.
  • You are responsible for ensuring you are getting a quality experience (i.e. coach, facilities, equipment, etc) so do your research.
  • Know that CrossFit is about pushing you outside of your comfort zone and it is this pushing that leads to quick results.
  • At the end of the day, it is up to you as an athlete to determine where you are fitness-wise as well as what your limits are.
  • While you should be pushing yourself and not making excuses, if you are too tired, too sore or feel pain, STOP.

I personally believe that:

  • CrossFit is safe for most people
  • Rhabdo is not a concern for most people
  • Finding the right box is key — do your research
  • Technique needs to be stressed more than speed and weights at many boxes
  • Trainers need to demonstrate their expertise outside of the Level 1 certification

Thanks for reading!

© 2015, Steve Flanders. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply