Posted: Feb 19, 2014 8:00 AM
 
Since 2000, athletes across the country have flocked to gyms for the latest workout craze: CrossFit. The rigorous training that mixes aerobic exercise, body weight exercises and Olympic weight lifting has given many the opportunity to push themselves to greater strengths, both physically and mentally. But is CrossFit dangerous?

Why is CrossFit so popular?

Every few years something emerges and becomes the latest craze: step aerobics, spinning, yoga. In the 21st century, we've seen a rise in more extreme fitness challenges. Obstacle courses such as Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race are as popular as ever, and it seems like everyone out there has at least one fitness friend who is into CrossFit.

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Founded by Greg Glassman in 2000, CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that mixes aerobic exercise, body weight exercises and Olympic weight lifting in the aim of improving overall fitness. The workouts are intense, but CrossFit fanatics swear by them. Sherry Ashford, a mom of three in Austin, Texas, credits CrossFit for helping her shed 20 more pounds when she hit a plateau after an astounding 100 pound weight loss. She says the nutrition information and workouts she learned through CrossFit helped contribute to an overall healthier lifestyle, one in which she can maintain her weight loss. With results like that, it's hard not to want to jump on board.

The dangers of CrossFit

CrossFit is and should be promoted to advanced lifters, not fitness enthusiasts that want to become an advanced lifter in a short period of time.

Migdoel "Dio" Miranda, B.S. in Advanced Corrective Kinesiology and Performance Enhancement Specialist and author of Interior Fitness: Move Your Heart and Reshape Your Life and Body, warns that CrossFit is not for the average Joe looking to get in shape. "CrossFit is and should be promoted to advanced lifters, not fitness enthusiasts that want to become an advanced lifter in a short period of time," Miranda says. The fitness professional advises that athletes should have established a foundation of strength, endurance, power, flexibility, agility, coordination and balance before attempting CrossFit. He feels that athletes should be assessed prior to starting the program, and should even be placed in different qualifying groups based on ability.

One potential danger in CrossFit is the risk of injury due to improper form. Critics claim that athletes have a higher chance of completing exercises incorrectly in an effort to complete as many repetitions as possible before the clock — the ever present feature in CrossFit workouts — runs down. There have been rumors that resting is discouraged, and that athletes are pushed through fatigue and pain to complete exercises. Ashford calls these claims ridiculous.

There is an element of danger in any type of physical activity if not done properly and if you as an athlete don't listen to your body.

"There is an element of danger in any type of physical activity if not done properly and if you as an athlete don't listen to your body," she says, admitting that she has never felt pressured to complete a workout if she was sore or fatigued. "I frequently stop, take a few breaths, and keep going. They would much rather us get the proper form down with lighter weights than Rx [complete] a workout just to do it."

Miranda agrees. "Not everyone is ready for this kind of survivor training," he says. "Many participants can't even squat, lunge, push, pull, rotate and/or dead lift properly. When those primal movements are not done correctly, you are setting yourself up for failure."

CrossFit and rhabdomyolysis

In recent months, articles have surfaced claiming to unveil CrossFit's dirty little secret, rhabdomyolysis, or rhabdo for short, a rare disorder in which muscle fibers break down and release into the bloodstream, causing kidney damage, and in some cases, death. Critics flocked to the internet to condemn CrossFit; however, Miranda and Ashford both dismiss claims that the popular workout is to blame. Miranda admits that rhabdo has been seen in many other settings, not just CrossFit. While the disorder is important to take into consideration when exhausting oneself, he says, rhabdo is so rare that few people even have the ability to push themselves to that level of exhaustion.

Should you CrossFit?

As with any new physical activity, athletes should do their research on CrossFit before attempting. Many gyms, also called "boxes," allow newcomers a short, free trial period before committing. Ashford visited several boxes before making her decision, and she feels that her fellow CrossFit athletes are like family, an aspect most athletes won't find at your average gym.

Bottom Line^ So is CrossFit dangerous? With a solid fitness foundation, proper form and a good coach, no. The dangers come into play when an athlete dismisses form for the sake of completing more reps or ignores signs that her body is fatigued. "Many people look at exercise as a forum to push themselves harder and harder, like some kind of punishment," says Miranda. "[They're] forgetting that exercise is just another opportunity to be."

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