Before I get into the dangers of CrossFit, first I want to say that I have friends and patients who are devout CrossFitters, and I mean no insult by the information here. As with most things, I don't presume that I know what is best for your body, as I'd hope you'd do me the same courtesy. Perhaps this sport keeps you fit and happy and injury-free – and that's great. For everyone else, it's important that someone discusses the inherent risks of this workout craze.
The CrossFit Kool-Aid
In 2001 a former gymnast, Greg Glassman, created CrossFit, an extreme exercise program with a dedicated following of loyal members. The classes apply various types of cross-training maneuvers like dead-weightlifting, pull-ups, plyometric jumping and more.
This zealous approach to fitness can cause major problems in one's body if he or she is not super careful. It particularly wreaks havoc on your joints. Not to mention, as Glassman himself has said “It can kill you. I’ve always been completely honest about that.” (source)
Though this is not advertised on CrossFit websites, nearly every CrossFitter I've met seems to have chugged the proverbial Kool-Aid when it comes to their workout lifestyle. Despite the known risks and common injuries, CrossFitters push through harder and faster for the sake of alleged health, fitness, and camraderie.
Can CrossFit really kill you?
Repeatedly ignoring your muscles telling you to stop can lead to a life threatening condition called rhabdomyolysis, or ‘rhabdo’.
Rhabdo occurs when, for lack of a better term, muscles essentially blow up, causing blood to collect excessive proteins called myoglobins. That substance makes its way to the kidneys, but it’s too much for them to bear. The excessive myoglobin can cause partial or total kidney failure in a short period of time if not addressed. It can even lead to death in some instances.
Bear in mind rhabdo to this extreme is very rare, and though it can sometimes be fatal, “many mild cases probably go unrecognized.” (source)
What CrossFit can do to your joints
A more common issue with CrossFit is joint injury.
CrossFit doesn’t just challenge you to push harder: it all but mandates it. Participants are frequently encouraged to push themselves past their muscle fail point while lifting extreme amounts of weight.
People deep into CrossFit tend to ignore joint pain to complete their workout, causing repeated aggravation. Continuing to stress a swollen joint can lead to worse health problems like arthritis and may even require surgery.
Jason Kessler is a former CrossFitter who was dedicated to the program for years but ended up having knee surgery before he quit. He also attributes his chronic shoulder injury to the repeated number of pull-ups he was doing. Kessler says, not without irony, “Apparently, repeatedly lifting over four hundred pounds isn’t exactly good for you.”
Is CrossFit safe for pregnant mamas?
Though obstetricians and midwives will commonly recommend that it's safe for pregnant women to do most exercises that they did before pregnancy, CrossFit is simply a poor choice for expectant mamas.
In recent news, Lea-Ann Ellison can be seen dead-lifting massive weights at nearly full term. While her midwives condone this, even for an experienced CrossFitter, this mama is putting undue strain on her joints and ligaments.
This extremely high level of fitness should not be seen as kick-ass and inspirational.
Lifting a heavy barbell over your head when your body's producing relaxin isn’t a very good idea. “Relaxin relaxes the body's muscles, joints, and ligaments […] and helps relax smooth muscles in the uterus and elsewhere throughout the body.” (source) In other words it’s essential for delivery but doing an extreme workout program with loosey-goosey joints is asking for trouble.
There are also risks from diastasis recti, a condition that occurs in 35-62% of pregnant women where the left and right side of the rectus abdominus muscles separate and the uterus pushes forward. In many cases of diastasis recti the muscles don’t naturally come back together, requiring surgery to fix it. (source)
CrossFit exercises innately use abdominal muscles that should not be toned during pregnancy. Unless the mama is having one-on-one instruction with an experienced coach, she runs the risk of this splitting her abdominal muscles and having to deal with diastasis recti after her baby is born.
Is doing CrossFit ever okay?
CrossFit is not inherently bad and can certainly get you looking beach or runway-ready if you don't get injured in the process.
It's my opinion that a high impact workout like this one should always have a one-on-one approach. Having a coach or trainer help you maintain proper form in each move will reduce the risk of injury. Unfortunately, CrossFit isn’t a one-on-one program and the group setting opens the door to injury risk.
If you choose to CrossFit, take responsibility for knowing and practicing proper alignment during exercises. Regardless of what a trainer/coach is yelling for you to do, listen to your body first and foremost. Knowing your limits and adhering to them is vital, because getting injured means you won’t be working out at all.
Have you tried CrossFit?
What was your experience?