Search This Blog

Friday, June 19, 2015

If I Criticize this Workout, Will I Get Sued?

Is Crossfit  fit  for the masses?

“A barbaric, potentially dangerous workout that refuses to die,” I said to a friend recently over lunch, referring to a recent 60 Minutes expose about Crossfit and its hubristic founder, Greg Glassman. “Trouble is, if I write anything un-squeaky clean about it, I could get sued.”

Why all the fuss about, as 60 Minutes described it, a “workout program that mixes elements of weightlifting, calisthenics, and gymnastics” that takes place in a notoriously Spartan environment?

Because business is booming, with about 12,000 CrossFit “boxes” (as they’re affectionately called) currently existing around the world, where soccer moms and dad-body guys eagerly congregate, lured by hyperbolic promises of a super-hot physique and wholeheartedly swallowing the no-pain-no-gain fitness philosophy.

That might sound a tad snarky, and indeed I got some flak about my not-so-flattering 2013 CrossFit blog. (Though no lawsuit threat, knock on wood…)

No, I have not conducted a formal study that evaluates every CrossFit trainer or participant. But I maintain that most are out of shape and in absolutely no condition to do a grueling workout as clueless CrossFit trainers push them with herculean brutality.

I’m not the only one who sees that. “It sounds like you're getting ready to go to war,” interviewer Sharyn Alfonsi replies when Glassman describes a typical CrossFit workout.

At the same time, my original blog wasn’t entirely anti-CrossFit. In today’s glide-on-the-treadmill-and-call-it-a-workout, wussified exercise culture, a juxtaposition of weight training and cardio sounds like a sorely needed breath of kick-in-the-pants.

Besides, incorporating a Paleo diet, emphasizing diet before exercise, and limiting workouts to an hour or less – principles Glassman endorses – certainly sound logical.

So what am I so riled up about? Let’s start with trainers. While experience widely varies, many personal trainers have at least a physiology bachelor’s under their belt. They keep up with certification and attend conferences regularly.

These rigid criteria don’t apply to CrossFit trainers. “One reason CrossFit's grown so fast is because just about anyone who wants to open a ‘box’ can after paying a $3,000 yearly fee and passing a two-day seminar,” says the 60 Minutes commentator. “It's how the company makes most of its money.”

In other words, have a rudimentary fitness interest, get a small loan from your parents or pool together money with your beer buddies, surrender a weekend “training,” and bam, you’ve got a CrossFit.

That anything-goes mentality extends to clients: Nearly anyone can join, regardless of fitness levels. Because many trainers lack proper training, they take a one-size-fits-all client approach rather than customizing programs.

Worse, instructors seldom screen or evaluate for muscle imbalances, weaknesses, and other injury-inducing obstacles. Throw nearly anyone into a competitive environment and push beyond their limits: What could possibly go wrong there?

Plenty. Besides garden-variety pulls and strains, CrossFit potentially increases your risk for more serious injuries including rhabdomyolysis, a horrific condition where muscle cells literally explode and leach protein into your system. (Check out Eric Robertson’s blog “CrossFit's Dirty Little Secret.”) 
Since CrossFit developed about 15 years ago (not nearly enough time to understand its long-term effects), doctors see more of this condition.

You could correctly argue any exercise performed incorrectly could become harmful, but inexperienced trainers coupled with punishing routines seriously crank up the potential-injury factor.

Regardless of these and other criticisms, crusaders will adamantly defend CrossFit like a religion. Again, you could argue any fitness routine will attract a few overzealous drool-zombies, but that swallow-the-Kool-Aid fervor seems to be incredibly high here. Glassman doesn’t seem to mind Crossfit’s criticism or cult status. From the 60 Minutes piece, he seems to revel it.

He also defends his brand with an iron fist. Journalists can’t write about CrossFit without worrying Glassman’s bulldog-legal team will sue the pants off them. Of the many lawsuits (more than 50, Glassman claims) that he’s won, 60 Minutes notes his “most tenacious fight revolves around headlines that CrossFit could be dangerous or worse, deadly.”

Shut up and just let people do their CrossFit, seems his not-so-subtle message. Sorry, I can’t acquiesce. As a personal trainer for two decades, I’ve witnessed incompetent trainers pushing clients way too hard, invoking devastating injuries, burnout, adrenal fatigue, and other problems.

Throwing a 50-something year old out-of-shape person into a push-it-to-its-limits-and-beyond environment is like accelerating a 1995 Chevrolet from zero to 70 on the Los Angeles freeway. Sooner than later, that car is going to give out.

While I agree with Glassman that 70-year-olds can deadlift, a good personal trainer creates the basic foundation, custom-tailors a workout, and accounts for limitations and potential injuries. Most CrossFit trainers don’t have that skillset.

Too many people have bought Crossfit’s it-hurts-so-it-must-be-working hype. They believe an uber-intense workout filled with endless reps and brutal routines will give them their dream bodies, even if that involves extreme pain or injury risk.

As with most things in life, more is not always better with exercise. A workout should hurt a little bit. It should kick your ass. But it shouldn’t resemble waterboarding.

Ultimately, figure out what works for you. That might be a combo of burst training with weight resistance, yoga, Pilates, or sprinting. You are not a one-size-fits-all person, and neither should your workout be. 

Most people should skip CrossFit and instead look for a credentialed, understanding expert who can challenge while reducing injury and maximizing potential. 

If you’re already in good shape, know a thing or two about exercise, and want to amp things up a few notches, CrossFit might be your ticket. Look for a knowledgeable instructor, use common sense, and quit your workout if you feel you’re putting yourself at risk for injury or permanent harm.

If you’ve ever done CrossFit, did you experience anything I described here or felt you potentially increased your injury risk? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook page.

You have permission to do so, free of charge, as long as the byline and
the article is included in its entirety:

Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!
© 2015 Jinifit, Inc.

If you use the article you are required to activate any links found in the article and the by-line. Please do not use this article in any publication that is not opt-in (spam).


Post a Comment