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CrossFit: Really a Dangerous Cult? A Response to Grant Stoddard’s (Yahoo Health) Negative Take on CrossFit [Part 2 of 2]

In part II of Mr. Stoddard’s assessment of Crossfit, ‘Inside the Cult of Crossfit’, we will address the final 3 points of my critique of his assessment.

These final three topics are:

3. Concern for injury
4. Pukie the clown?
5. The problem with group workouts

Before I begin with the final three topics, I do want to add just a bit more about our discussion regarding intensity.  Mr Stoddard appears to think that outside appearance determines the health of an individual.  He goes as far as saying that ‘If Glassman’s brand of functional fitness produces better aesthetic results than the traditional approach does, why did the gelatinous bodies at my gym often outperform those who appeared to be in better shape?’

I don’t know what to say about this other than to say that Mr. Stoddard appears intent on offending those who don’t have I guess what he would consider to be an ideal physique.  My response is to question why he even goes there?  Why does someone have to have a six-pack to be fit, lift heavy weights, etc..?  Does ‘looking fit’ make you more fit?  I think not…just something to think about…

Okay, onto our last 3 topics…

3.  Concern for Injury.  I could go in 100 different directions with this topic, but I don’t think anyone wants to read that much!  I would like to say that any workout program has its inherent risks.  The bottom line is that a person who is ‘training’ another needs to have optimal training in anatomy, kinesiology, biomechanics, and injury prevention.  I work with trainers certified by most all of the licensing boards in the country…these include the likes of ACE, AFAA, NSCA, NASM, and more.  I can attest to the fact that many personal trainers, who are likely implementing programs that Mr. Stoddard would find to be acceptable, are at the same (and in many times likely greater) risk of injuring their clients.  Until personal training certifications from all agencies are governed by essentially university standards, this field will have significant shortcomings.

Mr. Stoddard quotes Pr. Stuart McGill, who I consider to be the top spinal bio-mechanist in the world.  I do correspond with him from time to time myself.  Pr. McGill voices his concern about complex movements that go to failure.  He includes Olympic Lifts in this category and I cannot refute this.  The Professor has been published over 145 times!   The risk for injury is greater with exercises that require weighted ballistic movements and a high level of core stability.  It does make sense that as fatigue sets in, loss of proper form can lead to a greater risk of injury.  This topic does not apply solely to CrossFitters.

I do question if these above mentioned activities are any worse than a personal trainer or ‘coach’ in the gym teaching someone how to squat with the butt coming out, dead-lifting with straightening the legs first (effectively lifting with the back) and hyper-extending at the midpoint of the movement (OUCH!),  or showing someone middle deltoid raises in the coronal plane (for dozens of reps)?  How about trainers who supervise high school kids with power movements with weight far greater than they should be doing?  It’s true…in high school gyms across the country, students are being improperly trained and injured by less than properly educated coaching staffs.  They are not CrossFitters.

I can say from clinical experience that any gym exercise, if performed incorrectly, can create injury.  This is where instruction comes in.  I think the clients who work out at the CrossFit facilities I work with have the benefit of instructors who make ‘proper form’ a high priority.  As I mentioned in Part I, many CrossFit facilities have specific strength classes, which differ from the CrossFit classes.  Those who wish to work on strength can do so in a more traditional setting.  Mr. Stoddard might not have been aware of this as the facility he was at might not have been the best representation of CrossFit.

Mr. Stoddard goes on to discuss Rhabdomyolysis, a condition for this discussion that is created basically by over-training.  This condition can be seen in any activity that incorporates high levels of exertion under load without adequate rest.  It is nothing that anyone should try to achieve, be it in CrossFit or not.  It is also not unique to CrossFit.  All CrossFit staff should be educated about the signs and symptoms of Rhabdomyolysis, as it can be a life threatening condition. For that matter, trainers in any sport should be aware of the signs and symptoms of this condition.  It would be a good idea for the intensity of CrossFit workouts to be increased over time so that each new Crossfitter can get used to the workout format.  Just as if I put on pads and a helmet and went through a tough outdoor summer football clinic day after day without ever doing so before, too many intense workouts of any kind over a short period of time can have deleterious effects.

4.  Pukie The Clown?  In the 3+ years I have been working closely with CrossFitters, I have never seen or heard any mention of Pukie.  Mr. Stoddard discusses Pukie as being almost the mascot for the rough and tough CrossFit workouts, claiming that CrossFit embraces hard-core workout practices that essentially allows for looking down on those who are too weak to get through workouts.  Again, did I mention that I have never had any CrossFitter (facility owners included) ever even mention this funny/sick character.  I was able to find an article in 2005 with Pukie in it when corporate CrossFit put out a piece on Rhabdomyolysis, but I can honestly say that the dangerous, meat-head mentality does not exist with the facilities I work with.  Please keep this in mind if you are new to CrossFit or are thinking of starting up as each facility is unique and it would behoove you to find a CrossFit facility where proper form and movement patterns are important in the education process.

5.  The Problem With Group Workouts  Mr. Stoddard admits to not having a competitive mindset.  So be it.  There are pros and cons to group workouts and CrossFit facilities act almost as a community.  I have never seen a fitness facility before where people not only work out together, but also care about one another and many times, socialize together.  Being Mr. Stoddard stated that he has apparently become a misanthrope, I guess any class program would be an issue for him.  A CrossFit facility tends to be the place where you can leave your wallet and keys out in the open and nobody will take them.  There tend not to be thousands of members at any given CrossFit facility and one of the benefits of this is that the environment is very safe and friendly.  (On that note, I would never leave my things laying around in a large gym setting where I don’t know anyone).  As far as Mr. Stoddard becoming an misanthrope, that’s fine…to each their own.

Mr. Stoddard’s defining CrossFit as a cult, multi-level marketing, and any other negative thing he can think of simply goes too far.  I do not see the harm in groups of people pushing themselves with tough workouts…for the record though, I do not believe in beating your body to a point where it can no longer function.  (Instruction, instruction, instruction!!)  Mr. Stoddard should have gone to several other CrossFit gyms to see the differences between them before coming out with such a strong stance against CrossFit as a whole. His slanted piece serves no other function than to scare people and give out misinformation.  His article would have had much more credibility had he dug deeper and discovered more about CrossFit as opposed to just blanketing CrossFit as a whole with his single experience (N=1).  I understand he was humiliated by a dozen women in a class…get over it.

He concludes with a story about a woman asking him if he goes anymore…well, we know the answer to that…guess he’s not part of what he calls the ‘cult’ anymore and is enjoying Zumba somewhere…well, maybe not…Zumba is too much movement for an hour straight, right?