I’m assuming by now, many fitness people heard of the newest workout called CrossFit. For those of you that don’t know, it’s a strength and conditioning workout system that is built on constantly varied or randomized functional movements that are performed at a very high intensity. Many police officers, fireman, tactical operations teams, military special operation units, martial artists and elite and professional athletes use this system.
CrossFit’s ideas are completely different from the normal training models. It’s a close group of people motivating each other to push harder and lift faster, it’s time efficient and the workouts are very different and very challenging. The workouts are heavy with plyometrics, squats, deadlifts, pull ups, push ups, shoulder presses, snatches, etc.
An initial assessment at CrossFit may include a timed session where one has to row, jump, do pushups and body-weight squats. You’ll get some education on the basic exercises. Men’s Health recently published an article by Grant Stoddard titled, “Inside the Cult of CrossFit.” This is the author’s description of his first visit:
The highlight of each class was the workout of the day, or WOD. (A lot of these have been given women’s names—anybody up for a Cindy? How about a Fran?) My first WOD consisted of 12 “chest to deck” pushups, 9 deadlifts with 225 pounds, and 15 jumps onto a 24-inch box. That was one round; the challenge was to complete as many rounds as possible in 15 minutes. The clock started, house music blared, barbells clanked, and my fellow CrossFitters grunted, groaned, and screamed encouragement at one another. Sweat flecked the gym floor.
“Back to pushups! Chest to deck, let’s go!” screamed our trainer, Jenika Gordon, who also owned the gym. “Five minutes gone, so you’re a third of the way through!”
I was oxygen-starved and confused after three rounds, and I still had 10 minutes to go. And I wasn’t the only one suffering. Pushups around the room became increasingly bendy, jumps turned wobbly, deadlifts turned ugly. And even though some CrossFit crazies think vomiting during a workout is a badge of honor, I hoped I wouldn’t erupt my first time out.
The workouts are not typically programmed. You quickly move from one hard exercise to another hard exercise with the goal to become better at doing hard things. You are working your muscles with explosive movement patterns. It has been said that one of the great things about CrossFit is that it utilizes everyday functional movement patterns. But while the amount of weight you’re expected to lift for a short period of time makes you excellent for things such as running in to a burning building, hoisting a wooden beam and then running out with a person over your shoulder. Using the suggested amount of heavy weight with CrossFit definitely doesn’t apply to the average everyday life.
Now, let’s talk about injuries. The patients I have treated for upper extremity injuries sustained in the gym are usually from overuse (tendinitis or muscle tears), poor education on exercise in general or use or from poor form. One of the common themes across the reviews of CrossFit is the lack of education received on form. If the trainers don’t spend enough time teaching people how to perform these movements without weight correctly, imagine how dangerous it can be if they are then loaded with extreme amounts of weight.
Many of the exercises are timed. “Do as many repetitions as possible in one minute.” This is meant to be very challenging as you are gasping for oxygen and fatiguing rather quickly. This is where form fails. You’re now swinging your body to pull your weight over a bar compromising good form because you’re fatigued and then you’re compensating by recruiting different muscles because your primary muscles are exhausted.
If you Google “CrossFit injuries” this is the first link: http://board.crossfit.com/forumdisplay.php?f=12. This link takes you to a blog where there are 205 pages of people chiming in with their CrossFit injuries. But the biggest health concern with CrossFit is Rhabdomyolysis. This occurs when muscles are worked so hard that the fibers break down and release a protein called myoglobin into the blood. This can lead to kidney damage or even kidney failure. But CrossFit thrives on the fact that the workouts are so hard, they can kill you. Their mascot is Uncle Rhabdo (short for Rhabdomyolysis). He’s a clown whose kidneys have spilled onto the floor presumably due to rhabdomylosis.
After all this negativity, I feel I need to say this: Crossfit is a phenomenal workout only if performed correctly with one-on-one education and guidance. I would not recommend it for the beginner or for someone that has taken years off from working out. I would however recommend it to the intermediate level exerciser who wants to amp up their workouts (with education on form), or the advanced exerciser who has been involved in sports or has a high demanding job.
So after all I said, you decide whether or not this workout is for you. I know I spoke mostly negative towards CrossFit especially for not personally trying it. Due to the mild shoulder instability I have, there is no need for me to try CrossFit because I know I’d end up injured.