From mental health, to sports specific screening, to the latest research in exercise for Cancer our goal is to give our readers an overview of not just research in various areas of health and rehabilitation but to offer our opinion from years of experience in working in these areas.
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When we asked our patients and social media community what they felt were the biggest exercise trends of 2018, they came back with HIIT (high intensity interval training) as well as CrossFit. Having seen a number of recent ‘CrossFitters’ in the clinic, we decided to do some investigating into this fitness craze looking to answer three main questions so we could continue to help our patients best as well as feed some very overdue curiosity. We wanted to answer:
What is CrossFit
Can it be dangerous given the vigorous nature of the exercise, and
What our overall impressions of the activity
We then discussed our findings on 98.9 North West FM. We focussed on published evidence, our experience in managing injuries as well as subjective feedback from CrossFitters themselves and keen bloggers who currently participate.
The CrossFit Craze!
Usually you will find people will sit in one corner or the other – the absolutely devoted (CrossFit community) or those that are more cynical of the activity; we’ve asked ourselves are they cynical because there’s a lack of understanding of what it is or is because of the potential dangers mainly through injury that they have heard about?
So, what is CrossFit?
CrossFit evolved more than 20 years ago, but has become more popular in recent times. CrossFit is often advertised, in four words, as “the sport of fitness.” It is a training program that builds strength and conditioning through extremely varied and challenging workouts.
Now, it’s far from your traditional, work out, firstly it’s not done in a gym, it’s done in a box!
Think warehouse set up
Think hanging ropes/rings
Think sand bags over your shoulders
Think lifting heavy barbells over head
Think rolling tyres
Think jumping on and off boxes
There is one workout every day and the goal is to push yourself, with weight or speed. Each session contains:
An extended warm up
A practice round, to help improve skills and technique
The main WOD (Workout of the Day), and
A cool down and stretch
It is about your ability to work at a high intensity for a moderately long period of time – the thinking is that this will have great effects on sculpting your body and/or losing weight. The goal is to do more in the shortest period of time.
Who is most likely to suit?
It is my opinion, that if you fit most of these 4 categories, it is an activity that you are likely to enjoy:
Fitness fanatics - Many cross fitters call it addictive, you really feel like you’re missing something if you miss a day
Those that feel gratification from pushing themselves to their limits - Vomiting or passing out is reportedly not uncommon
People looking for support and community - Many CrossFitters speak most highly of the supportive and inclusivity
Former athletes - CrossFit has built-in teamwork, camaraderie, and competition (the time component drives the competition)
Who is unlikely to suit?
People that prefer to exercise on their own and at their own pace
Those that dislike or not driven by competition
People that like or need individualised programs
Those that have injuries or who are at higher likelihood of developing them
Can it be dangerous?
Three main elements appear to increase risk of injury or risk to health in this activity and they are:
The mentality of pushing yourself to limits
The term ‘Pukie the Clown’ is openly thrown around in this arena where vomiting is not uncommon; traditionally this was celebrated almost as an induction in the group, however many ‘modern’ CrossFitters report that is not now the case, but do admit that it is easy to get caught up in the hype
The competitive element and do as much as you can in the shortest amount of time
Body mechanics and technique are generally scarified to hit the goals increasing risk of musculoskeletal injury, particularly the spine, shoulders and knees
High speeds and heavy weights
The goal is just to do more and more without consideration to readiness. Unless you are highly conditioned, self-disciplined with technique and know your limits and have a good trainer supervising, the risk of injury or cardiovascular event is higher than a lot of exercise types.
Are there more serious risks?
In some extreme cases with a very small portion of CrossFitters, an incredibly serious medical condition called rhabdomyolysis have occured - when people push themselves too hard, too much, too fast their muscle fibres break down and are released into the bloodstream, which can result in organ failure.
As a side note, on the Australian Institute of fitness website under ‘Warning: things to consider’ there are five listed, I was most interested in the following two:
- Injury, rehab or clients with postural anomalies need to be very careful with the CrossFit prescription, work with your Allied Health Professionals to determine what will work best for your issues.
- Always come prepared for your classes; bring your water bottles for hydration, tape and superglue for your skin as they may tear
What are some of the most common injuries that Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists mainly see?
Low back pain – It’s typically the result of too much stress on the lumbar spine when doing dead lifts and squats
Anterior knee pain - The knees are especially susceptible to injury commonly we see patellofemoral joint dysfunction (PFJ)
Shoulder pain - Usually caused by the heavy, repetitive lifting exercises
What is my overall impression of CrossFit?
CrossFit appears to be a style of exercise that is suited to a very particular type of person, some that is:
Enjoys the community that CrossFit provides
Very clear on their goals
Enjoys the addictive nature of the sport
I would suggest that it certainly isn’t suitable for everyone and should be approached with caution. There is a high injury risk due to the nature of the activity as discussed.
I would suggest that people look to explore other options before looking to CrossFit, but if you wanted to try it, I would suggest looking to:
Seek personalised medical advice before commencing a program,
Aim to get a personal recommendation from someone who has been and recommends a particular centre/coach, and
Make sure you have a good allied health team on speed dial