The CrossFit Controversy
CrossFit's 10th anniversary is approaching. In the past decade, we have seen its popularity soar higher than could have been expected. The Reebok-sponsored, ESPN-covered CrossFit Games championship has had almost exponential increases in attendance and participation year after year. Everyone wants a piece of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) glory.
CrossFit's meteoric rise to fame and fortune has not happened without ridicule. The health and fitness industry has developed polarizing views on its philosophy, practices, participants and culture. The opinionated quarrels between die-hard participants and "traditional" exercisers have muddied Internet discussion forums to the point that many have forgotten why they exercise in the first place—to significantly improve their quality of life.
The discussions about whether CrossFit is a fad or a trend, safe or dangerous, useful or worthless seem unending. The controversy may go on forever.
Let's squash some of the claims and get back to the big picture.
Claim: CrossFit is Inherently Dangerous
Nearly any object or activity can be dangerous if not used or performed correctly. The stove in your house, the car you drive, and the hammer in your tool shed have a certain likelihood of causing injury, trauma or even death. Remember, vending machines kill more people than sharks. CrossFit, like any other exercise program, must be considered in this context. According to a 2003 study, among individuals ages 5 to 24, sports in general account for one out of every five injury episodes.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), in 2012, more than 1.9 million people sought treatment for a sports-related injury in an emergency room.
Why don't we demonize basketball, baseball or soccer for causing people to get hurt? Should these recreational activities be reserved only for professional athletes?
A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research concluded, "Injury rates with CrossFit training are similar to that reported in the literature for sports such as Olympic weightlifting, power lifting and gymnastics and lower than competitive contact sports such as rugby union and rugby league." In a general sense, training may not be any more dangerous than a lot of other activities we engage in.
Yet, we must also look at it from an individual basis. The differences between traditional field sports and CrossFit-style training lie in the implied intensities. Many Americans are overweight, sedentary, and have a history of injury. They are not ready to engage in rigorous, high-intensity, constantly varied movements. CrossFit's high intensity movement skills require levels of effort that make novice exercisers with those characteristics prone to poor success rates and/or injury. Consideration must be given to how such participants can maximize their success and mitigate their risk of injury.
The average American may not be able to perform daily tasks without injury, let alone HIIT. Therefore, a certified coach must perform a readiness assessment to identify movement deficiencies, exercise familiarity, and risk for cardiorespiratory disease. Training intensities must be monitored to give feedback on quality of movement and maintain a safe environment.
Support or Peer Pressure
Completing a soul-crushing Workout of the Day (WOD) with a group of peers can galvanize relationships and motivate people to push harder next time. This communal uplift can drive someone to complete even the hardest workouts.
Is that a good thing?
Community support through hardship is a double-edged sword. Meaningful workouts can be tough. The little voice in our head telling us to stop becomes more convincing when fatigue sets in. All we want to do is quit and stop the pain.
This is a protective mechanism against self-induced injury. But for people unfamiliar with exercise, the voice comes in too soon, possibly preventing them from pushing hard enough to create change. However, the survival reflex of cease and desist can actually fulfill its duty to stop us from hurting ourselves. A cheering crowd of supporting peers is incredibly effective at motivating us, which raises the risk of further self-caused injury.
Yes the workout was complete. Was it necessary to go on that long? Perhaps, maybe, I suppose. Good question.
Ultimately . . .
CrossFit looks like it is here to stay. Tens of thousands of people across the world are into it. Many are getting wonderful results. Any new, foreign and popular trend gets criticized by the establishment. Traditionalists often make fun of the new kid who wows people.
However, we must continue to critically view exercise routines as a means to improve, and not solely for emotional satisfaction. It is the responsibility of the CrossFit community to make sure coaches develop the expertise necessary to train average people. This may come down to turning them away or suggesting they get personal training or professional guidance before trying CrossFit
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