WOD-o-Phobia: Can CrossFit Kill You?

     It is no easy task to answer, “What is CrossFit?” with a succinct and articulate, Webster-ready definition. During my certification course to become a CrossFit coach, one of my instructors, Russell Berger, asked us all that very question, to which I believe a cricket chimed in with, “You guys are in trouble.” Russell didn’t seem too surprised by our head-scratching and asked us to simply share words we personally associate with CrossFit. Some examples were:

  • intense
  • varied
  • efficient
  • functional
  • compound movements
  • bodyweight movements
  • plyometric movements
  • gymnastics
  • Olympic lifting
  • power lifting
  • training for better agility, stamina, endurance, balance, coordination
  • a fitness community
  • daily competition for better fitness
  • quantifiable results
  • fitness as a sport
  •  (and my personal favorite…) fun!
Team cheering on an athlete as she completes a muscle-up!

CrossFit founder Greg Glassman concisely sums up these ideas with the words: “constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement.” Because I’m always game for throwing in well-known names to add a bit of credibility, I’ll include another of Glassman’s definitions:

“CrossFit is the application of the fundamentals of Newtonian mechanics to human movement, something else that is kind of unique for us.”

Impressed yet? 😉

But as with every new diet craze or fitness trend, not everyone will be on board the bandwagon and will even launch rotten vegetables at it in the form of not-so-flattering descriptive terms like dangerous, dumb, cultish, crazy…

But the potato pitchers and spinach slingers pitch and sling their produce with good intentions; for the most part, opponents disbelieve the group or organization’s claims, thinking their philosophy flawed and their methods malfunctioning and wish to warn potential subscribers of the possible hazards.

I personally know several respectable personal trainers and have read numerous articles of well-meaning, well-informed individuals within the fitness industry who strongly hold to their anti-CrossFit convictions. (And with CrossFit’s founder explicitly, unapologetically stating that it, in fact, “can kill you,” who can blame them?)

Google for just a few moments and you can easily stumble across Hitchcockian CrossFit horror stories, such as the notorious tale about a former Army Ranger getting a severe case of rhabdomyolsis, aka, rhabdo, ( a potentially lethal systemic meltdown initiated by the kidneys in response to the presence of shed muscle-fiber debris and exhaust in the bloodstream) that landed him in intensive care for six days. This gentleman is now an avid CrossFitter.

Only a handful — according to the CrossFit Journal — of people have been victims of rhabdo, and each were susceptible newbies whose previous workouts were relatively low-power-output and low intensity. (FYI, workout programs that separate weight-lifting from cardiovascular activities are generally “low intensity;” I personally hardly break a sweat during strength training alone.)

According to the CrossFit journal, none of the rhabdo sufferers showed signs of discomfort during their WOD (“workout of the day”); it seems clear the culprit was exposure to “too much work in too short a time.”

People you assume are “fit” and fully capable of performing WODs like “Cindy” (20 minutes repeating 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 squats as many times as you can) may actually be in much worse condition than my own mother, who at 60 years of age did a highly intense WOD consisting of dumbbell thrusters, jump rope, and deadlifts just yesterday. I must stress, however, that my mom did not begin CrossFit this way, and would’ve banned me from ever visiting her again had I programmed thrusters on Day 1!

I personally believe the key to injury-free CrossFitting is the same one we use to unlock every other new endeavor in life, from learning how to ride a bike to memorizing a lengthy passage of Scripture. That key consists of sufficient patience to take things slow and steady, perseverance to stay the course and not give up when frustrated and frazzled, and practice to ensure the skill has been properly learned so mistakes can be avoided when the training wheels come off or the opportunity to encourage someone with the Word of God presents itself.

Handstand push-ups at the CrossFit Regionals competition this year

It’s awesome to see people get fired up about CrossFit and want to push themselves to become stronger, faster, better athletes, but for coaches and trainees alike, we need to be careful not to bite off more than we can chew. The unassisted pull-up, the 250-pound deadlift, the handstand pushup…those will all come with time. As much a physical principle as it is spiritual, we cannot expect victory and success overnight. On the contrary, small steps must be taken and small battles won before we reach that CrossFit PR (personal record) or finish line of our faith (Jesus’ arms!).

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them– every day begin the task anew.”  -Francis de Sales

Stay fit, stay faithful ~<3 Di

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