Fit or CrossFit?

Popular exercises and exercise programs come in cycles. Some disappear after a few years and are never seen again, but many manage to return after many years of hiatus. Take kettle bells for example: they are nothing more than the original dumbbells repackaged in a slightly different shape. Kettle bell exercises are even similar to the ones done 50 years ago—yet people acted like they were the latest and greatest thing. Now, we have another type of exercise that seems to be sweeping the country: CrossFit.

For those of you who are not familiar with it, CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program that has become very popular—thousands of gyms now have CrossFit programs. The program has a large following and the competitors are very impressive. Athletes even compete around the country in “CrossFit Games” to determine the ultimate workout animal.

First, let me say I am extremely impressed with the conditioning and the athleticism that many CrossFit athletes have. They do numerous feats of strength and endurance using their own bodies, implements of various kinds, and light barbells. Pull-ups, muscle-ups, and handstand push-ups are just a few of the movements you will see in a competition. Running until you drop also seems to accompany just about every competition. Then there is the tire-tipping, which involves taking semi-truck or tractor tires and flipping them end over end in a race against the clock. Each event seems designed to tax the body to its limits.

Intensity and Injury

CrossFit is certainly intense and can produce some great results, but is it good for you? That is the part I question. It appears to be very ballistic, meaning the events are explosive and fast and the joints are going to take quite a pounding. It appears to me to be exercise for the young. I like to train hard, but some of the CrossFit events do not look like much fun to me—no matter what my age might be.

When I was younger, I did Olympic lifting. I even managed to do a 390 pound clean and jerk, but I never enjoyed them. Some have told me that I did not enjoy them because I was not good at them, which I feel is not true as the 390 pounds would indicate. I simply did not like the way they made my knees, elbows, and wrists feel. If you watched the last Olympics, you probably saw several serious injuries take place in the weight lifting competition. The same can be said with gymnastics. Are the athletes fit? Absolutely, they look awesome, as do their routines. Is it for everyone? No! Like the Olympic lifts, gymnastics has more than a slight chance of injury; again, several athletes in the Olympics were severely injured during competition. I am certain any Olympian or World Champion will talk of numerous injuries they have experienced getting to their ultimate goal.

One big issue with CrossFit is overtraining. CrossFitters seem to have a scary familiarity with Rhabdomyolysis—so much that it is colloquially called “Uncle Rhabdo” in many CrossFit circles. Rhabdomyolysis is a rare and potentially fatal condition commonly caused by excessive exercise. Essentially, muscle cells break down due to extreme strain and release a protein called myoglobin into the blood stream. This protein then overloads and clogs the kidneys, leading to numerous complications. Rhabdomyolysis can cause kidney failure and permanently damage the affected muscle tissue.

Finding a Balance

The issue with any intense exercise is balance. Injuries are especially common among newcomers who overdo their exercises. People get excited about trying various exercise routines because they see how good the athletes that excel in them look. Although the goal of CrossFit is to push a person further and further, people have to know when to stop. CrossFit coaches are supposed to keep people from taking it too far.  However, with its popularity and rapid growth, there are more CrossFit gyms than experienced coaches.

In CrossFit’s defense, I have a friend named Susie McEntire (who is actually the younger sister to Reba). I trained Susie before and I must say she never really embraced exercise. However, she is now married to a man named Mark Eaton who is into CrossFit training. Susie got into it as well (surprising to me) and has totally reshaped her body! She loves the workouts, and does them all the time—and although I will not reveal her age, trust me, she is not a kid anymore. I have heard others also proclaim how much they enjoy the Cross Fit program. Will they continue or is this just another fad coming down the pike? Only time will tell.

As for me, I do not ever see myself trying these workouts. They look painful to watch! Nor do I see myself ever Olympic lifting again, nor getting into gymnastics (though I did dabble with it in college). I will continue to train and would encourage all of you to do likewise. I guess the bottom line is: there is more than one-way to get to the fitness finish line.

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Dick Nunez FT

Director of the Black Hills Health and Education Center, and professional body builder.

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