Is CrossFit slowly damaging your health? 10 things you need to ask before joining.

Ciara O'Rourke

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“It is absolutely shocking, anyone can apply to complete a weekend course to achieve the Level One Certificate in CrossFit and they are then legally free to practice as a CrossFit coach.”

1. Will CrossFit lead to serious injuries?

CrossFit is a global phenomenon that has taken the health and fitness industry by storm over the past decade. With 12,000 locations worldwide and growing, hundreds of thousands of people       attribute CrossFit to their drastic fitness transformations. On the other hand, some critics believe that CrossFit is a type of fitness cult and leads to numerous injuries and muscle breakdown. 

So how does CrossFit have so many dedicated followers, yet countless medical and physical       therapy experts claim that this controversial method of fitness can be detrimental to one’s health?

2. Olympic-like lifts….what?!

Founded by Californian former gymnast Greg Glassman in 2001, the hugely popular sport of CrossFit consists of various weight orientated exercises, including olympic-like lifts, box jumps, pullups, jumping ropes and general cardiovascular exercises. According to CrossFit.com’s online guidebook, the sport aims to “forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness.”

This would suggest that CrossFit is suitable for all levels of ability and includes all types of              exercisers. Upon researching medical professionals such as physiotherapists, physical therapists and   doctors in Ireland and abroad, who had experience treating patients injured as a result of CrossFit, I was astounded by the feedback.

3. Are there health professionals who advise AGAINST CrossFit?

One such professional that was interviewed was chartered physiotherapist Eric Cullinane MISCP, Chartered Physiotherapist.

Eric spoke to me from his Merrion Square practice over the phone, where they encounter clients with injuries and muscle strain issues as a result of playing various sports.

Over the last few years, one of the most frequent sports that crops up as high on their list of        common injuries and strain is CrossFit.

Eric mentioned that he specialises in shoulder rehabilitation and strength and conditioning       training. He told me that the amount of shoulder injuries as a result of the rapid and high intensity nature of the WOD – Workout of the Day, leaves less-experienced CrossFitters with serious muscle strain, muscle damage and even tiny bone fractures. How can this sport become an enjoyable form of exercise? Is it increasing competition within extreme weight lifting to the point where people feel the need to compete against each other to win?

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4. Is obtaining a coaching certificate TOO easy…

Even more distressing, Eric says that the huge scope for anyone to open a CrossFit gym or ‘box’ as it is known in the CF world, is a very worrying aspect of the sport. “It is absolutely shocking, anyone can apply to complete a weekend course to achieve the Level One Certificate in CrossFit and they are then legally free to practice as a CrossFit coach.”

However, he does state that there are excellent CrossFit trainers out there, that are dedicated to the health and wellbeing of their clients and ensure everybody has the correct form of movement before beginning any exercise. More often than not, the decent trainers are also fully qualified Personal Trainers, Physiotherapists or have a degree in health and fitness science. Every month people attend the practice with sports injuries, but Eric says the main cause of shoulder injuries is a lack of knowledge in knowing the correct way to do an over head squat/push press or overhead cross.    Although he is a fan of CrossFit, he does warn people to ensure they choose a ‘box’ with a            well-known fully qualified fitness coach.

5. What do the medical professionals say?

Further delving into the world of CrossFit, there was a lot of research in sports and fitness journals highlighting the pros and cons of the sport. Mark Peterson, Physiologist in exercise from the    University of Michigan’s Department of Physical Science speaks on the aspect of ‘useless fatigue’      during CrossFit training. He writes “I have always taken the stance that training to failure causes useless fatigue… whereas fatigue is a normal side effect of certain types of metabolic training,          I do not believe it has a time or place in training for strength and power.”

6. Who does Crossfit?

It even has some famous followers who are dedicated to the sport…

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7. What do Personal Trainers think?

Personal Trainer and owner of Evolution Health and Fitness Mark O’Callaghan, agrees that it is an ‘extreme’ sport. Mark speaks out about the ill effects of CrossFit and the first thing he mentioned was the issue of frequent injury.

Mark stated that Olympic lifts and dynamic exercises used in Crossfit use large muscle groups and may incorporate the same muscle several days in a row. Due to participants completing forms of pull ups and squats every day, this does not allow muscles to recover, therefore overtraining can occur.

Mark highlighted that “injury rates are substantially higher than other fitness regimens as it’s all down to maintaining your technique over a period of time, which fails after fatigue.”

Of course it is impossible to maintain high reps of an exercise at a very high weight, which Mark says contributes to a lot of muscle wastage and deterioration, as the muscles and tendons do not have adequate time to recover and grow. The gym owner also names the techniques of various lifts as being incredibly difficult to master unless you are an Olympic athlete or professional sports     person.

8. Will CrossFit damage my muscles?

Another startling report spoke about the tearing of muscles as a result of CrossFit. This report highlighted that “the patient reported resuming his full CrossFit exercise routine with the exception of “muscle ups” per his preference.”

He reported a “mild residual physical deficit with strength estimated at approximately 85% of pre-injury level.” In other words, this particular patient showed signs of deterioration in strength.

Crossfit Instructor

Crossfit member – flickr/paurico’donnell

9. Who started CrossFit here in Ireland?

To further investigate the issue of the negative aspects of CrossFit, I spoke to the founder of the first CrossFit gym in Ireland, Colm O’Reilly, who initially set up the first ‘box’ in Tallaght 9 years ago.

When asked questions on CrossFit injuries and people having to give up due to health complaints, he explained that CrossFit is ‘no different’ to any other sport in relation to sports injuries.                 He continued on to say that the sport can have great trainers and not so great trainers, just like GAA, rugby or tennis. As I breached the subject of physiotherapists who reported to me that they have seen an increase in CrossFit related injuries, he quickly bypassed the issue and continued to rave about the mental health benefits of the sport.

Colm highlighted the fact that many people who join CrossFit do so with no previous experience lifting weights, and that CrossFit Ireland focuses on “coordination, balance, accuracy and 100% dedicated trainers.” With regard to the weekend course certification that qualifies anyone to open a CrossFit gym without any previous experience, he mentioned that any trainer he has encountered has been more than qualified.

When asked about the various cons associated with CrossFit that are whirring around the fitness world at the moment, he simply said “there are no cons!” He has coached participants in the   CrossFit games, which is now a million dollar industry that promotes the exertion of your body to the point of damaging your body.

10. So should I join?!

Well this is up to you, would you prefer to be defined by a time limit and number on a whiteboard in a crowded testosterone pumped ‘box,’ answering to a trainer that may only have two days of training, or would you prefer to be guided by well-trained, consistent and respected personal    trainers?

By: Ciara O’Rourke

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Ciara O'Rourke