What are good CrossFit results? For those who are into it, it’s unmatched. But, there are still a few things you might want to consider. What are those things? Read on.
CrossFit is a cult of absolute warriors with six-pack abs, guns that could have them arrested at an airport and physiques that look like Greek sculptures. They can go for hours, doing exercise after exercise and are insanely “in-shape.” Their progress seemingly never ends.
Although this all sounds great, hear me out before you go gung-ho and join a box (CrossFit gym). CrossFit is far more harmful than people make it out to be. Those that you see in the CrossFit games on ESPN are getting some outside help to be able to compete at such a high level. And, those that you don’t see are likely either injured, sick or bound to be at some point.
With that in mind, here are a few of the major dangers of engaging in CrossFit.
Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds. Exertion rhabdomyolysis (pronounced RAB-doe-my-AH-leh-sis) is easy to define. It can be broken down into three terms rhabdo- (striated) myo- (muscle) lysis (breakdown). Striated muscle, also known as skeletal muscle, is the kind of muscle you see when you flex your biceps or the kind that makes you look awesome on the beach.
Exertion rhabdomyolysis is an extreme condition. Bridget Gallagher, M.D., an ER doctor of Brooklyn, New York reports that she “regularly see[s] patients admitted with rhabdomyolysis due to CrossFit.”
What’s the Cause of Exertion Rhabdomyolysis?
It is extreme and prolonged overuse of the skeletal muscles. More or less, overdoing it in the gym.
The definition of CrossFit, according to their t-shirts, is that CrossFit is “constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement.” Rhabdomyolysis is even affectionately referred to by some in the CrossFit community as “uncle Rhabdo,” just like that uncle you have that you don’t want anyone to meet.
What is Rhabdomyolysis?
When the muscles break down, the contents normally stored in them get released to the bloodstream. The most important of which is a protein called myoglobin, which stores oxygen. The problem with this is that the myoglobin, when released, gets filtered by the kidneys.
However, because myoglobin is supposed to be stored in and used by skeletal muscles, it is supposed to be recycled and not disposed of. Because the molecule of myoglobin is so large, it can’t be properly filtered out by the kidneys and builds up in the blood and filtration vessels in the kidneys and causes a blockage similar to what is seen in the vessels of the heart during a heart attack. The end result is kidney failure and death.
Death would certainly cause an abrupt halt to everything you’ve done in the gym.
There are a couple of communities out there that routinely overdo it other than the CrossFit community, most notably the bodybuilding and powerlifting communities. However, there are a couple of reasons that these communities never present with rhabdomyolysis, and the most widely used method among the elite is the self-administration of Human Growth Hormone or HGH.
Extra HGH makes the human body recover at an accelerated rate far beyond what any other organism could hope to experience. But, aside from being illegal and the stiff penalties you could receive (as bad as $100,000 fine and five years in Federal prison, depending on where the offense is committed), self-administration of HGH without proper medical supervision and advisement has been linked with the growth of all cancers. It’s pretty scary if you’re preventing rhabdomyolysis with HGH. Instead of kidney failure, cancer will kill you.
Other methods have been proposed to help solve the recovery debate, such as L-glutamine.
However, according to all recent research, L-glutamine is not anti-catabolic (it does not prevent muscle breakdown). All it does is support gut health, which suggests it helps nutrient absorption and thus recovery, but that is a very small portion of recovery.
Perhaps the most effective method bodybuilders and powerlifters use to help recovery is to de-load.
Both communities realize what they do is very extreme and every couple of weeks scale it back to be lighter, less volume (less total weight lifted per workout) and considerably easier, attempting to maintain the gains they have already made. This method seems to work, and it has shown to let the muscular system and nervous system (which is the system that determines how strong you are, contrary to what you have been told) to recover, to return to normal, which allows you to get back in the gym and keep crushing it to get to where you want to go.
CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman tries to justify the rhabdomyolysis debate by saying “it can kill you … I’ve always been completely honest about that,” according to a 2005 New York Times article. Even though rhabdomyolysis is normally a condition reserved for the ultra-endurance monster (think 100+ mile races), military elite (Army Rangers, SEALs, Delta Force, etc), or the occasional high school athlete with a psychotic football coach, it has been estimated by some that 80% of recreational exercisers who engage in CrossFit will experience it in their CrossFit careers.
His very admission that CrossFit can kill you is the exact reason why you’re seeing what you see. The unfit, out-of-shape man that appears in the majority of the pictures you’re seeing is the man who founded CrossFit. Although upon interview, he says things like he used to do CrossFit and just doesn’t feel like it anymore.
As an exercise physiologist, trained to know what exercise does to the body, even if he quit 20 years ago, he would not look like this without a straight year spent in bed with Cheetos and pizza as a major portion of his simple diet plan.
I get it. He’s a businessman, not an avid exerciser anymore. But, talk to any top executive and they will always, without fail, practice what they preach. That’s why Mark Zuckerberg has a Facebook page. Even as a former small business owner in the world of personal training, I was always doing exactly what my clients were doing, or had them doing things I had previously done. So if he really is a businessman, doesn’t that beg the question of “why don’t you look like any of the thousands that you sell this info to?”
Crossfit Results vs Risks
Bone and Joint Injuries
Aside from any other medical conditions that someone may experience from the CrossFit life, some of the more prominent things, and even occurring more than the dreaded rhabdomyolysis, are bone and joint injuries.
If you have any experience with Olympic lifting, think about doing 60 rapid cleans for time.
Without the Olympic lifting experience, this is similar to doing 60 rapid behind-the-neck squat presses for time. In just this WOD (CrossFit term for workout of the day) alone, the stress on your shoulders is enormous. Now think about doing that for three cycles, with minimal rest in between.
No wonder that when you talk to any surgeon, sports medicine doctor, orthopedist or even a general practitioner, they cringe when you mention this WOD to them. As a former personal trainer and current strength coach, I speak from experience when I say CrossFit has been great for my business. I fix CrossFitters. They come to me with bone and joint conditions that only CrossFitters or sedentary people who jumped into physical activity too quickly are prone to having.
When you think of the term “personal trainer” or better yet “strength coach,” what comes to mind?
A few things could be expert, experienced, master, bachelor’s degree, works with pro athletes, works with celebrities and the list goes on. But, by attending a two-day course that does not conclude with a comprehensive exam like the one I took to get my CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) certification, you can become a CrossFit coach.
Even if you haven’t touched a weight in your life, even if you have no formal or informal training on exercise, you can do it. Most strength coaches and even some personal trainers have at least two years of formal training on exercise, and many have bachelor’s degrees.
Beyond that, if you want to work at a university, it’s not a rule but many universities expect a masters’ degree in addition to a CSCS.
Not only do strength coaches and trainers across the country get degree after degree on sciences that all directly relate to exercise, but we are continually evaluated and have to recertify on average every two years. CrossFit coaches take their course once and never go through it again.
From experience, I went to a USAW (United States of America Weightlifting) course to learn how to do it and how to teach the Olympic lifts, and I was the only non-CrossFit coach there. Yet, I was the only one who sat silently and listened to what our instructor (who was so good at coaching Olympic lifting that he got offered the job to coach the American weightlifters at the Olympics) had to say. The CrossFit coaches continually questioned his methods and said things like “So what? Our CrossFit course instructor said…” and other insults.
This is a guy who got offered the Olympic job.
However, CrossFit coaches have achieved this status as being masters of exercise. So why does anyone with a Masters in Exercise Physiology or Masters in Biomechanics (two sciences that say “hey, look here, I actually am a master and have a degree to prove it!”) get questioned, when the CrossFit coach gets to do what he/she wants without a peep from the audience? I can answer that. People who buy into the CrossFit mentality do so for a quick fix to their fitness dilemma.
Just as is being seen with the overfishing of the world’s oceans now, there’s no doubt that CrossFit works in the short term, but what are the potential long-term implications?
Both are outlined above – health conditions and injuries.
So I decided to actually sit and talk to a CrossFit coach in an informal setting. I didn’t talk. I listened. Not by choice, but the guy (who shall remain nameless) did not stop talking, even for one second. Every word out of his mouth was about CrossFit. Forty-five minutes after we sat down, I got up and left because I had finished my coffee and didn’t have a question for him. I already knew what I needed to.
A few weeks later, just to confirm my suspicions, I attended a CrossFit holiday party at the request of a friend who was trying to decide to continue after her one-month free trial at a box. The conversation never strayed from CrossFit, how awesome their instructors were or how many times they had puked that week from CrossFit.
Imagine a life where you go to work, then go to cocktails and talk about work, then go home and eat dinner with your significant other and all you talk about is work, then go to bed thinking about work, 52 weeks a year. If you think doing squats, deadlifts and bench presses three times a week is boring, think about what a life like that would be like. That is what being part of a CrossFit community is like, according to my personal social research and that of people who I know who previously engaged in CrossFit.
Summing It All Up
One other interesting point you should know is there was a study conducted at a university where CrossFit was the topic of research. The study was published, and CrossFit sued the publisher for falsification of data (lying about the results). CrossFit said the study lied because the study started with 54 subjects, and results were only published on 22 subjects. Thus, CrossFit said the study lied.
However, upon a hearing, it was revealed that the 32 missing subjects from the results dropped out due to injury or irreparable medical conditions including but not limited to rhabdomyolysis, which was in fact identified in the conclusion of the paper. The executives from CrossFit dropped the charges.
This article may sound heated because it is. As a strength coach, I am very passionate and opinionated about this topic. But it does not take a lot of research to see that I am not the only one with these opinions.
There is one thing I do like about CrossFit (other than that it was great for my business), but only one thing. It gets people to actually lift weights, women included. However, there are some seriously glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed.
Again, before you think about joining a box, consider the question: Is the reward really worth the risk?
By Michael Schletter, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D