With CrossFit gyms spreading across America like Starbucks coffee shops, thousands of people are filling these gyms for an extreme, often tear-inducing, type of workout.
But even with its popularity, there are plenty of experts who are questioning the safety of CrossFit.
With high incidences of injury and even a dangerous metabolic disorder that seems to be a right of passage in the industry, there are many fitness professionals who are warning fitness enthusiasts to steer clear of this hot new sport.
Crossfit Coaches Can “Coach” With Little Experience
Most fitness certifications take months to complete. Yoga instructors, for example, have to do at least 200 hours of learning and teaching to be certified as teachers.
At a minimum, this can take eight weeks. CrossFit coaches, however, can be certified in as little as two days. If they're already personal trainers, that might not be that bad, but many of them are lacking that certification.
It's scary to think that if someone has enough money, they can open their own CrossFit gym and advertise it as a safe place to train.
What's even scarier is a great number of these people have very little knowledge of proper form, which is critical when you're doing intense, heavy lifting like Olympic and Power Lifts.
CrossFit is already riddled with injuries, and when you combine an intense program without properly trained professionals, people are going to drop like flies with injuries.
Many trainers experienced in lifting have actual college degrees. Strength and conditioning coaches working with athletes have master's or doctorate degrees in things like kinesiology.
They have internships under their belts and they've attended plenty of educational seminars to further their education. They've taken certification exams, passed practical exams, and dedicated years of their lives to teaching other proper form.
CrossFit coaches (not all, but many) have two days of training under their belt.
One personal trainer has noted that most of the professionals she's worked with do not recommend CrossFit or design workouts that remotely resemble CrossFit.
Rhabdomyolysis: It Should Scare You How Familiar CrossFit Coaches Are With It
Some anti-CrossFit professionals have dubbed rhabdomyolysis the dirty secret of CrossFit. While the name is definitely scientific sounding, it should sound scary, especially if you're interested in trying this sport. CrossFit beats the "deplete, endure, repeat" into attendees' heads, and it's this intense cycle that can be quite dangerous.
So, what is "rhabdo"? when your muscles are put under extreme conditions, particularly repetitive extremes, your muscle cells die. When the cells burst, they leak protein into the bloodstream. One of these proteins is called "myoglobin".
Your kidneys' job is to clean stuff like this up from your blood. However, myoglobin shouldn't be in the blood, so your kidneys don't know what to do with it. This leads to overloading your kidneys and can cause damage--severe and permanent--to them.
As for your muscles, they die. They'll start to swell and you'll experience extreme weakness, sometimes so severe you can't even lift your arms or legs in normal movement. In normal exercise, your muscles do regenerate after exercise but the body rebuilds them.
In a case of rhabdo, though, the body's systems that repair the muscles are off trying to keep you from dying.
Worst case scenario? You die. If you don't die, you can experience "acute compartment syndrome". This is a medical emergency and can lead to your limb requiring removal if you aren't treated promptly.
One decently fit woman attended a CrossFit workout that left her toned, fit body completely wiped at the end of her workout. As her day progressed, her muscles became increasingly weak.
They began to swell and she became unable to move them. Within 24 hours, she was hospitalized with acute rhabdomyolysis.
When she called her gym to passive-aggressively cancel her membership, she explained she was in the hospital. Her coach's first words? "Is it rhabdo?".
The Elitist CrossFit Attitude Almost Encourages Injury
If you've attended a CrossFit class, you probably see a lot of encouragement in pushing yourself to your limits, even if that means you're throwing up, fainting, or going home with bleeding palms.
Tears are common in any sport, although in CrossFit they're probably not tears of pride; they're tears of pain.
The Workout of the Day is different every day, and everyone in attendance is expected to participate, no matter their fitness level.
Yes, there are modifications, but if you're fresh from a 10 year couch marathon, no matter what modifications you do, you're going to wind up either puking, bleeding, or so sore the next day you can barely move.
A former CrossFitter says, "Your typical CrossFitter wants to zap his fitness tank down to zero by the end of a workout. He’s not content to be just sweaty — he wants to collapse into a heap on the floor".
Eventually, due to repetitive lifting of massive amounts of weight (some people are repeatedly lifting 400 or more pounds daily), you're going to end up injured.
It may be a minor injury that turns chronic or you might end up with something requiring surgery.
Of course, this is a risk you take in any athletic endeavor, but the CrossFit culture seems to view this as a test to fit into the group, a badge of honor if you will.
How else will you get ripped if you aren't pushing yourself hard enough that you get injured occasionally?
Many CrossFit athletes have reported that their coaches blame them for their injuries. You're supposed to go hard, right to the wall and if you don't, you're a failure. But if you end up injured you're stupid and pushed too hard.
The super-intense Workout of the Day asks your body to hit its "peak force" for way more repetitions than what your body's physiology can actually do. Studies have shown that just four or five sets showed a decrease in peak force.
When you're asked to do 20 sets, what do you think your body is doing internally by number 12 or 13?
A different study shows people suffering from more fatigue and poor positioning because of the sheer number of repetitions they're being asked to do.
The more tired you are, the sloppier you are, so when you hit your max level of effort only seven reps in, how's your form going to be by number 50? Sloppy form will mean more injuries due to excess stress, more fatigue, and no recovery time between reps.
Over time, your body will eventually start to break down. It's only a matter of time before you see an injury.
Does CrossFit Lie?
CrossFit has a lot of critics that insinuate you will be taught how to be "just okay" at a lot of things but not very good at much. Will it make you fitter and stronger?
But if you have other fitness goals, like cross training for running or strengthening your basketball game, you won't get too much out of CrossFit.
CrossFit gyms are notoriously misleading, too. They might tell you that repetitive lifting is going to improve your cardio fitness, when in actuality all it's doing is stressing your shoulders or increasing your risk for a herniated disc.
If all of their claims are true, why do people join CrossFit?
Mostly it's because they see such drastic changes in the first six months after starting that they want to see more changes, whether it's weight loss, more muscle, or increased strength.
Those initial changes, though, are simply due to the increase in physical activity and not necessarily due to the quality of it.
The Science of Running has written an article about the invalidity of CrossFit and their lofty claims. Because the workouts differ every day, there's a lot of variation but no direction to take that variety.
The core of CrossFit is simply intense workouts that are done at maximum levels to the point of sheer physical exhaustion. When you hit that exhaustion, you can't just keep going. Your body quits.
You're simply maxing out the intensity and not at strength or endurance if you're doing the exercises with control, moderation, and progress.
Only you can decide if CrossFit is right for you, but it's important to weigh all of your options before you decide whether to do it.
Ask yourself what you're looking for in fitness. Whether it's camaraderie, endurance, or bulking up, there are plenty of other ways to get those things without succumbing to frequent and persistent injuries.
Always examine the experience and education of your coaches before you join a gym; if you aren't being coached properly, you're asking for a host of problems.
Read our guide on how to pick right crossfit shoes.
Visit and read more guides at increasing your risk for a herniated disc