Exercise crazes tend to come and go over time. Jazzercise, Aerobics, Pilates, and Zumba are some of the most popular work out trends over the last few decades. Even a cursory review of today’s fitness news highlights the movement known as CrossFit. A fitness regiment developed by Coach Greg Glassman over several decades, CrossFit is also the sense of community that spontaneously arises when people do the workouts together. Glassman believes that this communal aspect of CrossFit is a key component of its effectiveness.
The CrossFit culture includes pushing yourself to the point of near exhaustion through a system of challenging and punishing exercises. The CrossFit injury rate raises concerns that the flipside of the communal culture is exacerbated by the peer pressure to perform too highly, often beyond the skill set or endurance level of the individual. A WOD (workout of the day, pronounced “wad”) is published daily on the website with a proscribed set of exercises and repetitions. Participants are encouraged to move quickly through the routines and to post their completion times online.
Some proponents of CrossFit state that it is up to the individual to weight the benefits and risks associated with the program, and make a decision whether or not to participate based on their personal willingness to accept the CrossFit injury rate in order to achieve the benefits. Many believe that having increased levels of fitness outweighs any risk of injury such as shoulder pain after a workout. CrossFit is known for its intense strength and conditioning. There is truth in the statement that physical fitness improves the quality of life, however, achieving improved levels of fitness is possible through a wide variety of exercise activities, many of which carry a lower risk of injury.
In a 2008 lawsuit, Makimba Mimms versus Training Concepts, LLC, the former sailor contends that he was permanently disabled as a result of participation in CrossFit WOD. Captain Jonathan Picker, Commander of the Navy’s Center for Personal and Professional Development posted a story in the Center’s internal magazine that raised concerns about CrossFit. According to his article, several experts in the sports medicine field have addressed concerns that the program has the potential for causing an increased incidence of musculoskeletal injuries, even muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis) and therefore is not supported by the Center. The story further states that anyone can develop a program that is very intense, but there is a safer way of doing this for our sailors.
In response to the known cases of rhabdomyolysis, Glassman wrote an article in the CrossFit Journal, the company’s online publication, where he outlined ways affiliates could lower the likelihood of injury such as shoulder pain after a workout. The CrossFit injury rate among participants had led to a bad reputation. Novices do not always know what to expect when joining a CrossFit box. In the CrossFit culture, form is frequently disregarded and Olympic style weightlifts are being used as a conditioning tool.
In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers surveyed 132 CrossFit athletes. They found that 97 (73.5%) sustained an injury that prevented them from working, training or competing. Of these injuries, nine required surgery.
Shoulder injuries accounted for nearly 25% of the reported injuries. This exceeds the injury rate for Olympic weight lifting where athletes move hundreds of pounds of their heads. Olympic weight lifters train for years and are masters of form and technique for each of the required moves. In a typical CrossFit environment, power snatches, clean and jerk and other Olympic-style weight lifting movements are performed by those with an adequate amount of experience as well as those who are new to the sport of CrossFit, many of whom get caught up in the pressure to push beyond their limits. Shoulder pain after a workout is a sign that something is wrong. It requires review and diagnosis by a qualified physician to determine the cause of the pain. Pushing past the pain does not result in better fitness – it results in worsening injury.
Increasing adult and childhood obesity rates and rising metabolic issues indicates that developing a national passion for fitness is a good thing. We need exercise and a culture that celebrates fitness at any age. Steady incremental gains in fitness provide a foundation for long-term health, but the program to build a healthier future should not result in serious injuries.
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