Crossfit: To Be or Not To Be Dangerous

posted on May 15, 2015 by Dawn Grant

crossfit-aftermathCrossfit.  It is everywhere.  I see it on Facebook, around town, in the news and on youtube.  You can always tell the people who just finished a Crossfit workout because they look like they are about to die.  Seriously.  Their hair is in sweaty tangles, their breathing is labored (probably from throwing-up their morning pea-protein shake), they have sweat stains all over their athletic apparel, and if you look closely in their eyes, they are screaming “GIVE ME A REST!”  Crossfit has been a contagious movement across the US.  It is well known for it’s ability to strengthen and condition one’s body by incorporating all kinds of crazy calisthenics.  I once saw a gaggle of Crossfitters with a five-gallon bucket (full of water) on their heads, sprinting through a parking lot.  What I want to know is:  Does it really work?  What I have come to uncover in my research is: That depends if you want detached retinas.

Crossfit is the metrosexual’s attempt to bring back the complete strength athlete, but seriously, who has ever gotten big and strong from Crossfit? Men in the white-collar world think they can tap into their inner warrior by training this way.  Although I applaud Crossfit for trying to popularize “functional” strength and conditioning, they take an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to it.

Crossfit is not sport-specific and promotes broad and general overall physical fitness. Its growing popularity has been fueled by a virtual community Internet model. They include everything from Olympic lifts, to kettle bells, to calisthenics, and they plop every odd lift in the mix without any rhyme or reason. You try to be a jack-of-all-trades, but you end up a master of none and your physique reflects this. So, again, if you are looking for the jack-of-all-trades body, then Crossfit may be for you. Every day, a new workout (called the Workout of the Day, or WOD) is written on a whiteboard, and everyone in a class completes the same workout no matter what fitness level they’re at.

You won’t find anybody doing calf raises or exercise-ball sit-ups in a Crossfit gym (or box, as Crossfitters prefer to call it). Instead, there’s an open room with barbells, medicine balls, rowing machines, pull-up racks, and jump ropes. Compared to the formal atmosphere of most gyms, Crossfit boxes seem downright primal. That’s by design. Your typical Crossfitter wants to zap his fitness tank down to zero by the end of a workout. He’s not content to be just sweaty — he wants to collapse into a heap on the floor.

The point here is that subjecting your muscles to extremely high stress repetitively is not good. Crossfit seems to think that the more pain you are in, whether on that day or the days following the workout, the better. The more you disregard the pain and keep pushing through it, the “tougher” you are. But this is not true, and more importantly, it’s not healthy. Moreover, Crossfit coaches are able to get certified in a weekend. The only real barrier to opening up your own Crossfit gym is how much money you have. Very few of them have any real knowledge of proper form, which is especially critical for olympic and power lifts. Very few of them have any real knowledge of the physical detriments.  In fact, kinesiologists have stated their concerns over and over again.

Do you remember back when Sweet-n-Low first came out?  The FDA and the USDA all said it was the best thing to cut sugar intake and help diabetics handle their insulin levels.  Fast-forward twenty years and it turns out it’s ingredients are carcinogenic; causing multiple cancer tumors in lab rats and humans.  Hunh.  What happened there is that there was not enough data or studies done in the beginning to prove the dangerous outcome of prolonged human consumption.  Now, the proof is in the pudding.  So what does this have to do with Crossfit?

There is an endless and quite circular argument that Crossfit is dangerous.  However, don’t voice your concerns to those crazed Crossfitters because they will descend upon you like the Hounds of Baskerville.  They defend their herculean WODs.  Crossfit has no data collection mechanism, so it is safe to say, just like the licks of a tootsie-pop, the world may never know the true injury rate.  Because Crossfit is an affiliate system and not a franchisor, the system is less like the head-and-appendages body of a franchise and more like a solar system where the planets orbit loosely around the sun, albeit unattached. Which means there is not now, nor can there ever practically be, any mechanism for reporting of injury data. In a system where Crossfit HQ prides itself on little oversight of its affiliates – you buy the license to use their name and that is it – there is no possible way for Crossfit, Inc., to monitor injury rates or collect data. Any attempt to do so, especially in a mandatory fashion, would usurp the individual rights of the affiliates to run things how they see fit.

According to recent studies, Crossfit has grown from one gym in Santa Cruz, California, in 1995 to a list that may soon top ten thousand gyms, spanning every continent except Antarctica. Why is it gaining so much popularity?  Could it be that they have the backing of Nike and Reebok now? Or is it a cult?  Do you know a Crossfitter?  I know several.  And for the longest time, they carried an “us-vs-them” mentality that was really awkward.  Their mentality of athletic superiority is underwhelming and exhausting to be around. Whenever I asked them about the safety behind such extreme physiological workouts, they’d launch into a tirade. Um, brainwashed much?  But hey, this is just my opinion.

There’s a lot of bravado in Crossfit, and that’s part of the appeal for lifelong athletes who can’t stand the idea of spending an hour on the treadmill. Firefighters, police, and military personnel especially love the program because it’s all based on functional movement, i.e., the same types of actions they encounter every day in their jobs. I tried Crossfit a couple times. I threw up multiple times. Then I realized I wasn’t a firefighter.  I enjoy working out.  I enjoy strength training.  I do not enjoy throwing up.  So I guess I’m out of the Crossfit loop.  I am not allowed to play in their sandbox anymore.  I’m OK with that.  I rather adore my retinas.  Thanks for reading.  InJoy your day!

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Crossfit: To Be or Not To Be Dangerous posted on May 15, 2015 by Dawn Grant

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