The CrossFit Paranoia
I am, by no means, an expert on CrossFit. Let’s get that out of the way, first and foremost. I started training in CrossFit in January 2013 when Reebok CrossFit Medfield opened its doors in my neighborhood and my good friend Rich Borgatti (who runs the excellent Mountain Strength CrossFit in Winchester, MA) sent me an email letting me know about it. I’d been wanting to train for some time, but never really made the leap. With a box opening in my town, and with Spencer Hendel (Rich promptly informed me that he was ranked 13th in the world) at the helm, I jumped at the chance to start training.
So it’s been, what – nine months? Thereabouts. If I could only use one word to define what my CrossFit experience has been it would be this: amazing.
Spencer and Luis and Erin and Mike – the four coaches that teach classes at my box – are all gifted instructors. They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to every class – delivered with an outstanding level of quiet confidence, humor, and sincerity. There’s not a day that goes by that I am not thankful for the extraordinary amount of learning I’ve been able to do this year. Put simply: they rock.
After 30 years in martial arts, I’ve seen my share of great teachers. I’m unbelievably fortunate to have spent the last 22 years training with Mark Davis of the Boston Martial Arts Center and continue to do so as often as I am able.
I’ve also seen mediocre teachers. And I’ve seen terrible teachers. I’ve seen teachers that I used to have respect for fall prey to their own egos and lose the ability to put the welfare of their students ahead of their own self-aggrandizement. I’ve seen people get hurt, sometimes badly.
Which brings me to the point of this post: CrossFit paranoia.
My newsfeed on Facebook today was filled with the same article over on Medium.com blasting CrossFit for the possibility of athletes developing Rhabdomyolysis in the course of training. “Crossfit’s Dirty Little Secret” is the title. The article itself goes on at some length detailing what Rhabdo is, how it seems to afflict a disproportionate number of CrossFitters, and generally adds a degree of paranoiac fervor to the notion that anyone stepping into a box is immediately going to develop this terrible condition.
Rhabdo is indeed a nasty condition and should be avoided at all costs. The key to doing so is to always be responsible for your own training. If you’re in a box and the coaches are yelling at you to put on more weight, or to go harder-faster-heavier than you feel comfortable doing, stop. Just stop. Explain that you’re not going to do that. If they still seem to pressure you, then walk out of the box and don’t look back. The coaches clearly don’t know how make their athletes’ well being the single biggest priority. The same thing holds true in martial arts: if you go to a school and the teacher is barking orders like a drill instructor, preaching some sort of dogma or urging students not to disappoint him, or laughing off questions, then leave and don’t look back.
CrossFit is an incredible journey – just like martial arts – that anyone can enjoy. Each day I go to CrossFit, I walk in humbled and walk out accomplished. Those two extremes may not appeal to a lot of people – certainly there is a great percentage of people who prefer complacency to challenge; who would rather have routine and than unpredictability; and who would rather look for an excuse than for results.
The reality of the world we live in is that you can be injured doing anything. Walking down the stairs in your house, reaching for a bag of chips, crossing the street, swimming – hell, you could have a heart attack in the middle of getting your grand funk on, for crying out loud. But CrossFit no more equals an automatic case of Rhabdo than swimming equals an up-close-and-personal visit from a great white shark. Can it happen? Sure. Can you mitigate the chances of it happening? Absolutely.
And the two biggest ways to mitigate your chances of getting Rhabdo are as follows…
1. Find a great box with amazing coaches. Not all CrossFit boxes are created the same. Take your time to find the one that is right for you. Coaches should inspire and lead by example. They shouldn’t make you feel like less of a person simply because you don’t deadlift 600 pounds. Good coaches recognize that their clients are not necessarily going to win the CrossFit Games – that they want to be challenged in the right way, in an environment that is supportive and safe.
2. Use your brain. Get your ego under control. If the young bucks at the box are heaving up four hundred pounds and you try to do the same on your first day, then you’ve just dangled a bloody piece of seal in front of a great white shark. Don’t be stupid. Take your time and the heavier loads will come with experience. Give your body time to get used to the exercises.
I know what CrossFit has done for me and I know what it has done for my wife and my two boys. We love it. We love the community of people we train with; we love the challenge and the lack of routine. I’m in the best shape of my life as I turn 44 years old (although I still hate running with a passion). CrossFit is an outstanding way to get into shape.
So, don’t listen to the paranoids who moan about Rhabdo and use it as an excuse to steer clear of their nearest box. Go visit a CrossFit box and try a workout for yourself. Talk to the coaches. Meet the people that train there. And use your brain and common sense to decide for yourself if CrossFit is right for you.
Leave the fear mongers far behind. It’s where they belong.