Is CrossFit Really Dangerous??

ABSOLUTELY NOT! CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied, functional movements performed at relatively high intensity .”CrossFit is one of the fastest growing strength and conditioning programs around today. CrossFitters are trained in explosive plyometrics, speed training and gymnastics movements while maximizing strength to weight ratio and flexibility. A heavy emphasis is also placed on Olympic and power-style weightlifting.

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Training the CrossFit way encourages you to work out 3 to 5 days a week. The workouts are highly intense and short, taking about 5 to 15 minutes to complete. In total, each workout lasts about an hour- including stretching, warm-up and the WOD (workout of the day). People joke that the CrossFit warm-up exercises are tougher than the workouts at a “regular” gym- that’s not a joke. With regard to healthy eating, CrossFit recommends a daily eating plan of meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds and some fruit. little starch and no sugar. This diet is similar to the popular Paleo and Zone nutrition plans.

CrossFit may be one of the most extreme exercise workouts around these days but in my opinion and from the research I have done, I do not believe that CrossFit is inherently dangerous.┬áThe CrossFit I belong to, CrossFit Central LI located in Syosset, NY was established in 2007 and was the first CrossFit certified gym on Long Island. It’s owner, Chris Isernio is also the hands-on manager and a certified trainer of the CrossFit gym. We spoke about all the negative publicity and criticism that has plagued CrossFit recently. According to Chris, “the negative feedback stems from people training with inexperienced coaches. Maybe there is a great athlete who gets his Level 1 coaches’ certification and then without much other training opens a CrossFit gym.” In addition to the inexperienced CrossFit coaches, Chris said that another problem is overzealous coaches. According to Chris, he has heard of incidents where certain coaches just want to work the CrossFitters to the bone, “they keep pushing and pushing- it’s unhealthy.” According to Chris, “overstraining is a real problem and experienced coaches know this. Experienced coaches advise their athletes to work out hard (if they want to and are able to) 3-4 times per week not 7 days per week.”

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So why has CrossFit’s safety been and continues to be a hotly debated topic? Here are some points to consider:

1) Rhabdomylosis- In a recent HuffPost article, Eric Robertson, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, wrote about the dangers of Rhabdomylolysis (Rhabdo), a potentially fatal condition that can be caused by severe exertion, among other things. Rhabdo occurs when skeletal muscle is damaged causing proteins to be rapidly released into the blood. This results in harm to the kidneys and can ultimately lead to kidney failure. Rhabdo is not a common condition and not unique to CrossFit. There have been cases of Rhabdo in football players, triathletes, marathon runners and body builders. In the same article, to prevent Rhabdo, Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor for ABC News, recommends staying hydrated both before and during exercise, taking breaks during workouts and listening to your body.

2) The possibility of injury is increased with participation in ANY high-intense fitness regimen. This is especially true if you are new to Olympic-style weightlifting and plyometric workouts or if you have a previous injury. Performing exercises when you are in a fatigued state increases the risk of injury. Listen to your body. In other words- if you are tired- REST!

3) Not all CrossFit coaches are created equal. Before you join a CrossFit gym, make sure that the coaches have the appropriate certified CrossFit training. Make sure you ask about credentials for any coach who is responsible for teaching you proper lifting technique. CrossFit is dangerous when done improperly or without a well-trained coach.

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4) CrossFit is mostly geared towards healthy people who enjoy vigorous exercise. If you have an injury or weakness, tell your CrossFit coach. They will work with you to tailor the specific exercise to your needs and limitations. A year after my hernia surgery, I was skittish about the GHD machine ( Glute-Ham developer torture contraption, seriously- google it). I felt the machine was straining my abdominal muscles at the hernia scar site. My coach immediately told me to stop what I was doing and to lay off abdominal workouts for a few days or until I felt comfortable. He then showed me other abdominal exercises to do instead of the GHD machine if I thought that it may bother me again.

5) Know your body. This cannot be emphasized enough. Injuries usually occur when someone is making poor decisions about their body or doing too much too soon. Athletes get caught up in the competition of the classes and push themselves too far. No pain, no gain should NOT be your mantra.

6) CrossFit is challenging. The workouts are fast-paced, constantly varied and grueling. Crossfit is hard. It`s always hard! Crossfit never gets easier, you just get faster. I have done half-marathons, triathlons, kayaking, rollerblading, Spin, hot yoga, rock-climbing, yet nothing challenges me on a daily basis as CrossFit does. Working hard at CrossFit this past year has given me the confidence to enter an Olympic length triathlon this summer. My husband is the one who got me interested in CrossFit and we constantly challenge each other. I hope to always push myself to do more, to be more and to achieve more.

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People joke that CrossFit embodies a cult-like mentality. I think this is because CrossFitters feel a sense of camaraderie with others who CrossFit. Why? Because after a particularly grueling workout when your body is drenched in sweat, your breathing is labored, your heart is racing, when you collapse on the floor, only the person laying next to you can appreciate the effort it takes to lift your arm for a congratulatory fist-pump.

A special thank you to Jay Hoffman for the awesome pictures in this post and for all the terrific photographs in all my posts.