By now I’m sure you have heard of CrossFit and if you haven’t already had a friend trying to get you to try it out, you soon will. It is the hottest fittest craze right now and only gaining in popularity with the quick results it promises, but will those results last and how much of your health are you gambling by pushing your body too fast? CrossFit relies mostly on Olympic lifts and requires pushing your legs and shoulders to their limits every day, which results in an incredible amount of stress on the rotator cuff and ac joints. More and more I hear accounts from former and current CrossFitters about various shoulder impingements and/ injuries or and find it alarming when they had no idea how much stress they were causing to those joints until they started having severe pain.
Searching for the words “pain” and “CrossFit” on Twitter yields hundreds of results, nearly every one praising the sting the workout provides. “There’s pushing an athlete to the point of discomfort that is challenging,” says Joe Dowdell, founder and CEO of Peak Performance in New York City. “But then we pull the reigns back. Vomiting is a sign that you’ve hit a point when it’s just too much.”
“CrossFitters put up with burning muscles and overall strain so they’re used to ‘bring it on, gimme more gimme more.’ It gets hard to say oh, that’s pain, I need to stop” says David Geier, Jr., an orthopedic surgeon and the director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina.
While all exercise can create injury, Geier sees more injuries with CrossFit because of the high-speed, high-impact approach. Certain exercises implemented by CrossFit (Olympic lifts, specifically) are meant to be done in moderation. But CrossFit preaches pushing to the edge of every set, every rep, until there’s nothing left in the tank. And while training to muscular failure is notoriously debatable, one thing is certain: Regularly pushing your body to failure can lead to serious health risks, like rhabdomyolysis (rapid muscle breakdown caused by extreme exercise or dehydration) .
The real danger is to new athletes, like those who flock to the thousands of CrossFit facilities looking for a great workout. Word of mouth is powerful in the CrossFit community, and maybe the most dangerous element. While the workouts can be performed by beginners, their immature muscles can’t tell the difference between training to failure and simply getting a good workout. In fact, most beginners don’t know when “too much is too much” and don’t understand the unique demand of an exercise session, says Eric Cressey, C.S.C.S., a shoulder and injury prevention expert and owner of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass.
Since many explosive movements require technical skill, he says, it is not advisable for Olympic lifts be completed in a fatigued state. CrossFit, and other popular workout schemes like bootcamps, rely on training to excessive exhaustion and failure, and thereby create an artificial perception of effectiveness. “These people might be doing a crazy workout and feel great because their endorphins are flowing, but then they wake up with their shoulder pounding with pain,” Cressey says.
His biggest concern is the technique that goes along with the workout. “When you see a 20-minute circuit of really ugly cleans and ring dips, those are exercises that don’t jive well,” he says.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not think CrossFit is the problem and can be very beneficial implemented correctly into a training program. For the majority of fitness enthusiasts, however, I urge you to start slowly and use it as a high intensity day within your regular routine. With moderation you will be able to focus on perfecting your form while staying injury free and hitting new goals.