A physical-therapy professor says CrossFit workouts can be dangerous, and is disturbed by the CrossFit culture's idolization of sports injuries as badges of honor.
Eric Robertson, an assistant professor at Regis University, is shocked by the high incidences of the kidney condition rhabdomyolysis among CrossFit enthusiasts. Rhabdomyolysis, which is usually caused by excessive exercise, can lead to kidney damage or failure.
"[With rhabdomyolysis] the muscles become so overworked that the tissues begin to break down, and myoglobin, the bi-product of muscle fibers, is released into the blood stream," Robertson wrote on Medium Sept. 21.
"Rhabdomyolysis ... is an uncool, serious and potentially fatal condition resulting from the catastrophic breakdown of muscle cells ... Under extreme conditions your muscles cells explode. They die."
Robertson said CrossFit seems to celebrate rhabdomyolysis, pointing out that its mascot is a garish-looking cartoon clown named Uncle Rhabdo.
"Uncle Rhabdo is an exhausted, but muscular cartoon clown connected to a dialysis machine with what appears to be his kidney, large intestine, and plenty of blood spilling onto the floor around him," he observed.
"The image of Uncle Rhabdo originally served as a tongue-in-cheek way for CrossFitters to prove that they had worked hard, but problems arise when athletes – and their trainers – don’t know when to call it quits."
Robertson said he has encountered and heard from CrossFitters who did severe damage to their bodies because of the rigorous, ballastic weight-lifting and strength-training moves involved in the grueling workouts.
Ironically, Robertson noted that rhabdomyolysis is so common in CrossFit that CrossFit trainers themselves have written numerous blog posts about the condition. Interestingly, CrossFit fans who suffer injuries are often blamed for bringing the injury onto themselves, says Robertson, when in reality, a major problem is the lack of proper oversight in crowded CrossFit gyms.
Robertson isn't the only expert who thinks CrossFit's hardcore workouts do more harm than good. Fitness coach Alan Aragon, the nutrition advisor for "Men's Health" magazine, praised CrossFit for introducing many sedentary men and women to rigorous exercise, but is annoyed by the movement's gung-ho celebration of injuries.
"CrossFit is kind of a rebellion against the pink-dumbbell, Universal-machine gym culture," said Aragon. "But they kind of swing the pendulum the other way around, where you get people doing a bunch of funny movements to utter exhaustion and bleeding all over the place and thinking it's cool."
Aragon, who is a continuing-education provider for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, also finds amusing the ironic cliché that "Crossfit makes women hot and men small."
While CrossFit proponents such as "The Biggest Loser" star Bob Harper say proper technique curbs the incidence of injuries, exercise scientists caution that CrossFit workouts can lead to injuries even if done with proper training and supervision.
"Crossfit has very ballistic training," Dr. Mark Kelly, an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, told Reuters. "You're asking people to move fast through a large range of motion. Even with coaching, the foundation of stability, mobility and psychomotor skill has to be laid [first]."
In 2008, a Virginia jury awarded $300,000 to former U.S. Navy technician Makimba Mimms for injuries he sustained during a CrossFit workout in 2005. Mimms was allegedly hospitalized for a week, urinated blood, suffered rhabdo and swollen legs after being poorly supervised during his workout by a gym employee who was not certified.
Mimms, now 34, says he's permanently disabled as a result. CrossFit responded to the lawsuit by sarcastically renaming the WOD (Workout of the Day) that injured Mimms the "Makimba" and recategorizing it as a children's workout.
Meanwhile, CrossFit founder Greg Glassman has boasted that WODs "are designed to exceed the capacities of the world’s fittest athletes." He noted the brutal workouts can cause serious injury or even death.
"If you find the notion of falling off the rings and breaking your neck so foreign to you, then we don't want you in our ranks," Glassman, 56, told the New York Times. "[CrossFit] can kill you. I've always been completely honest about that."