Over the last several years, CrossFit has gained traction and popularity around the country. Many celebrities credit their fit physique to CrossFit and their time spent in the “box.” Bob Harper, celebrity trainer for The Biggest Loser, is among the CrossFit enthusiasts, even including CrossFit style workouts in the training schedule on the show. The “push your limits” training style has advertised dramatic physical transformations and there is a certain cult loyalty to the brand, but much like anything that becomes wildly popular, CrossFit has definitely seen its share of criticism.
CrossFit employs a series of exercise styles including HIIT, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, and plyometrics to name a few. The fitness model is designed around competition with a ranking based on speed and performance for the Workout of the Day (WOD) as well as partner workouts where you try to out compete your counterpart. The CrossFit games have also become quite popular as an ultimate testament to an individual’s fitness. The company also emphasizes good nutrition and largely subscribes to a Paleo diet and lifestyle. All of this sounds great, right? A fitness program that emphasizes variety to discourage stagnation, competition to encourage motivation, and a meal plan for the complete package—what could be wrong?!
As a fitness enthusiast myself, the program has intrigued me. I gave it little attention from afar, marveling at the dramatic results, but never investing much energy into the details, that is until a local news story shed light on the other side of the CrossFit coin. In January, a story was featured about an O’Fallon local, Kevin Ogar, who during a power lift in a competition, lost his balance and endured a severed spine after the barbell landed on his neck, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down, even after 2 operations. Sure, this type of incident could occur in any physical activity, but the quantity of CrossFit reported injuries is definitely notable. From my research it appears that a 2-day training course and the funds to buy a franchise are all that are required to open a CrossFit gym, daily workouts are open source and readily available on the internet, and speed is a key component in the competition aspect of the daily workouts. This potentially creates a dangerous combination—relatively untrained individuals performing workouts with little instruction with a focus on speed rather than form are encouraged to push themselves to failure. Other than the severe story noted above, more minor injuries have also been reported, specifically to shoulders, and a huge interest has been placed on the increased reports of rhabdomyolysis.
The fitness community is definitely divided on the issue. Die-hard enthusiasts will defend their sport all the way to dialysis, stating that injuries are no more common than those sustained from any general fitness; while opponents won’t acknowledge any benefit to the fitness trend at all. Much like any fitness routine, it’s important to know your own limitations and be wise in your decisions. CrossFit, just like marathon running, kickboxing, gymnastics, etc. is not for everyone. If you do choose to venture into the world of CrossFit, there are important things to keep in mind:
- Ensure that you’re working with a skilled trainer.
- Make absolutely certain that you know and use proper form on any exercise.
- Listen to your body—muscle fatigue and soreness are normal for any strenuous workout; pain is not.
The truth is, with over 27 CrossFit gyms in the St. Louis area alone, and over 9,000 nationally, it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, but in my humble opinion there are a lot of fitness alternatives that will cost less than the $100-$180 monthly fee for a CrossFit membership.
Weigh-in! Do you have any experience with CrossFit?