The Great CrossFit Debate: Rhabdo, psychosis, and one thing you can’t deny

090805M4150N142CrossFit has been the talk of the fitness world on the Internet lately. And not for the strong, hard bodies the program is known for producing.

Like any high-profile entity, it was only a matter of time before its closet skeletons were revealed. Or maybe they just escaped, because they were locked in their with “Uncle Rhabdo” the clown. Whatever it was, several recent articles publicizing the dangers of the sport has lead to CrossFitters everywhere to jump on the defensive, and those who are anti-CrossFit to fervently share these articles across their social channels with an I-told-you-so attitude.

First off, I’m neither for nor against CrossFit. I just kind of sit on the sidelines and observe like I did in P.E. class all throughout my secondary school days (what… I hated team sports!). There are a lot of things I like about CrossFit (which I will get to later), but some things I don’t. And the things I don’t like tend to vary from gym to gym. Not all CrossFit gyms are the same (regulation seems to be a big part of the problem), so it’s not fair to pigeonhole them all as angry, push-it-til-you-puke sweat boxes where your muscles go to die and seep into your blood stream.

The anti-CrossFit article that started this recent round of Internet debate is “CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret” by Eric Robertson, a professor of physical therapy at Regis University. Basically, he says thanks to “CrossFit[‘s] culture of deplete, endure, repeat,” and a lack of knowledge and training among CrossFit coaches has lead a spike in cases of rhabdomyolysis, a rare condition “normally reserved for the elite military trainee, ultra-endurance monsters, and for victims of the occasional psychotic football coach.”

Although a big part of the issue comes down to the owners, coaches and culture of each individual gym, CrossFit itself can’t escape the blame. The whole concept of the brand was built on what sells, not a desire to inspire and help people become fit and healthy. The article “CrossFit’s Greg Glassman vs. Jack LaLanne” by James Fell, a syndicated fitness columnist and certified strength and condition coach, points out that CrossFit creator Greg Glassman is a businessman first and foremost, and doesn’t seem to care that his “gyms [are] encouraging bad form and pushing participants to do far more reps than they can handle.”

Really, anyone can push themselves hard enough and end up with rhabdo (like my boyfriend’s roommate recently did when preparing for a police physical agility test)—you don’t need to go to CrossFit to do that. The problem comes from the culture and human psychosis of not wanting to be a failure in front of a group of their peers. Maybe someone should create a new branch of CrossFit, one where you only do AMRAP with proper form, all coaches were certified strength and conditioning coaches, and no one was made to feel like a pansy for not completing a set (I’m sure there are some like that, but it’d be awesome if ALL of them were like that).

CrossFit fan or not, you can’t deny one of the best things to come out of the brand has been an evident increase in the number of women lifting heavier weights. I think it’s awesome to see mainstream magazines and other media featuring the crazy fit women of CrossFit, and to see more and more women interested in hitting the weight room and wanting to learn Olympic lifts.  If you are one of those women, I’d suggest getting strength and conditioning coach first and foremost. If you do want to try CrossFit, sign up for an On-Ramp type program at a reputable CrossFit gym before you ever attempt any sort of CrossFit-type workout, especially one with heavy weights.