Is CrossFit Dangerous?

CrossFit is among the latest fitness fads in gyms across the country and throughout the world. As a matter of fact, many fitness facilities have opened recently dedicated strictly to CrossFit. The craze is promoted by fitness trainers and exercise enthusiasts alike, but is CrossFit dangerous?

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a fitness program combining strength training, speed training, and plyometrics. Included in the regimen are exercises such as kettle bell lifting, Olympic weight lifting, endurance exercises, gymnastics, and exercises using the resistance of one's own body weight. CrossFit's claims include increasing stamina, muscular strength, cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance, power, speed, flexibility, balance, agility, coordination, and accuracy. It appears to be a one-stop shop for fitness.

The CrossFit training schedule requires three to five workouts per week. These workouts are short, usually taking just five to 15 minutes, but they are extremely intense. Each day's workout is presented in a circuit format, with exercises performed one after the other with very little rest between circuits. The goal is to keep the body pushing, running, pulling, squatting, and rowing for the entire duration of time.

Hundreds of CrossFit exercises are combined to make up daily routines or Workouts of the Day (WOD). A WOD could include:

  • Burpees: Begin in a standing position, drop to the floor into a pushup position, move from pushup to squat, and finally jump straight into the air. The more power behind the jump the better.
  • Power Cleans: Using a weight bar, lift it from the floor to parallel with the shoulders, quickly and forcefully.
  • Thruster: This is similar to a traditional squat, except it includes a weight bar held parallel with the shoulders and performed in quick movements.
  • The Snatch: This is a standing weight bar lift from the floor to over the head, but motions are quick.
  • Variations of sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups, often with kettle bells, climbing ropes, rowing machines, and jump ropes.

Is CrossFit Dangerous?

CrossFit can be dangerous, especially for those who are new to fitness, lacking in coordination, or unable to handle the quick, explosive movements that make up the regimen. High-intensity workouts always come with an increased risk of injury.

In the case of CrossFit, there is also risk of a rare, but serious muscular injury called rhabdomyolysis. This is a condition in which skeletal muscles are damaged to the point of breaking down. Muscle cells can rupture, causing leakage into the blood stream. This eventually leads to kidney damage if not treated properly.

Symptoms of rhabdomyolysis vary depending on the severity of the condition, but can include weakness, soreness or swelling in the affected muscle, extreme stiffness, and abnormally dark urine. Dehydration, alcoholism, and genetic factors are common causes of rhabdomyolysis, but extreme physical exercise can also trigger the condition. You can prevent rhabdomyolysis by easing into any workout regimen, drinking plenty of water, especially during workouts, and avoiding exercise in hot, humid environments.

Considerations for CrossFit

If CrossFit sounds like it might be right for you, but you are just getting started with exercising or weight lifting, schedule a visit to a CrossFit facility. The program is intense and it helps to work with a professional trainer before trying a WOD on your own.

Before working with a trainer, be sure you check his or her credentials. This is true for any personal trainer, but especially important before beginning the intense CrossFit program. Properly trained fitness professionals have studied kinesiology, biomechanics, exercise science, and general health, so they understand the importance of designing programs that are safe for individual needs and concerns. Be sure to ask for credentials and references from any coach before scheduling a training session. Also speak up during the session if you experience pain or discomfort.

Most CrossFit enthusiasts find it is better to familiarize oneself with weight and strength training before participating in the high-intensity workouts. There are ways to modify CrossFit WODs, so try one of the simpler versions until you are strong enough to do the regular exercise.

CrossFit is best suited for healthy people who are experienced with exercise. If fitness has never been a part of your life, starting with CrossFit is probably a mistake. It is better to ease into the program gradually by practicing lower intensity workouts. It is also not a good idea to practice CrossFit if you suffer from health conditions or are recovering from an injury, or you have special physical needs that require alternative methods of fitness.

CrossFit is relatively new and has limited data supporting many of its claims. Over time, varying levels of intensity might be developed to help those of different fitness levels participate safely in the program.

Like most fitness programs, CrossFit is not for everyone. There are advantages and disadvantages to the program, the most obvious of which is the fast pace, variety of movements, and high intensity. Many healthy people love CrossFit because of these factors, but others find there is too much risk involved. If you believe CrossFit might be right for you, consider the following:

  • How physically fit are you right now? Beginners will want to avoid CrossFit or a try a variation of the WODs until they are experienced exercisers.
  • Is there a CrossFit facility near you? Do they offer time for observation or allow visitors to participate on a trial basis? Would any current CrossFit enthusiasts be willing to share their experience with you?
  • Is there a CrossFit coach or trainer available to work with you? Has he or she undergone not only CrossFit training, but also proper fitness and health training? Are you comfortable with this person and what is his or her philosophy on pushing clients through workouts?
  • Are you experienced with strength training? If your strength base is inadequate, focus on building it up before participating in WODs.
  • Do you know the CrossFit system? Make sure you are familiar with circuit training and the intensity of a CrossFit workout before jumping in.
  • Have you talked to your doctor? You should consult your health care provider before participating in any fitness program, especially one as vigorous as CrossFit.

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