CrossFit and Rhabdomyolysis

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A few days ago Medium.com published an article titled, “CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret” written by a physical therapy professor named Eric Robertson. Professor Robertson’s article details a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which is extreme kidney malfunction due to excessive muscle damage. While he makes the case that rhabdomyolysis is commonplace in CrossFit gyms, I will argue that his position is exaggerated and perhaps even dishonest.

CrossFit and Rhabdomyolysis

The first issue that we must address is the elephant in the room whenever you talk to experienced CrossFit trainers: there is no one single thing that you can point at and say, “THAT is CrossFit.” Due to Greg Glassman’s theoretical idealizations of general physical preparedness, constant variance, and functionality, you can make an argument for virtually any physical activity fitting under the CrossFit umbrella. A short list of activities that could easily pass for CrossFit includes weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics, sprinting, calisthenics, kettlebell training, triathlon, running, and even certain types of yoga. Clearly, this makes defining the term ‘CrossFit’ very challenging.

Next stop on the debunking train: CrossFit gyms and trainers vary WIDELY from place-to-place. While some people may argue that CrossFit HQ has a quality control problem, it is worthwhile to consider that ANY large corporation runs into this issue. Have you ever been to a Starbucks that just “feels better” than another Starbucks? Similarly, there are plenty of yoga studios, for instance, that have much more experienced teachers than others. Thus, extrapolating an individual’s experience with one CrossFit gym to CrossFit as a whole is a bit misleading. There are CrossFit gyms, and then there are CrossFit gyms. Just as with any act of consumerism in a free market, the buyer must make a smart, educated choice when choosing a gym and trainer.

My main problem Professor Robertson’s article is that the title is overly sensationalized (just like a piece published on Salon.com in early September that was originally titled, “CrossFit embodies everything that’s wrong with America”). To write an article about one individual’s experience with rhabdomyolysis is one thing, but to then state, without evidence, that rhabdomyolysis is “commonly encountered in CrossFit” is just blatantly dishonest. To provide some perspective, I have been training in a CrossFit gym since June of 2009, and I have witnessed exactly ZERO instances of rhabdomyolysis in that time.

Lastly, this argument is from a commenter on reddit (hat tip to Brian Sawyer from CrossFit 908):

Let’s say, internationally there are 100 cases a year (pure guess – if there were more I’d imagine we’d hear more about it). There are probably 10 people at a WOD, twice a day, 5 days a week, at 6,000 affiliates. That means in any given week there are 600,000 WOD’s – and I think I’ve been fairly conservative there not including non-affiliate workouts. That’s 31.2 million workouts a year.

So we’ve got 100 cases from 31.2 million workouts. That’s a 0.0003% incidence, making up half a percent of all reported cases. Even if it was 10,000 reported Rhabdo’s a year, that would only be 0.03% of all CrossFitters, hardly “commonly encountered.”

Thanks for reading! If you found this post interesting, helpful, or even controversial, please share it! On Thursday I will be writing about some Practical Tips for Prioritizing Quality over Quantity in a CrossFit Setting.

Clarity and Focus in Exercise and Diet

This post is inspired by Dan John’s “Tough or Reasonable” and Ido Portal’s “A tip for the generalist,” as well as Precision Nutrition’s “Calorie Control Guide for Men and Women.”

Clarity and Focus in Exercise and Diet

Scenario #1: The Over-Zealous Eager Beaver

You suddenly become flushed with inspiration to overhaul your life, and with the best of intentions, you begin a super-strict Zone Paleo diet and an intensively exhaustive exercise regimen. What typically happens here? The majority of people who commit to this undertaking last a very short time before fading out and reverting to old habits. By attempting to change everything all at once, nothing actually sticks. (See BJ Fogg’s paper, “A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design.”)

Scenario #2: What Would Lao-Tsu Do?

You read about the Paleo diet and are very curious about whether or not it’s the right choice for you. In order to try it out, you decide to avoid bread for one week and see what happens. By Saturday, you notice your jeans fit a bit looser around the waist, and your energy levels mid-morning are more consistent. Great! The next week, you decide to subtract pasta from your dinner, instead adding spinach or kale. What happens in this situation? Flash forward one year in time, and this person has made several drastic, wholesale changes in their life by adopting new habits one at a time and ensuring that they last.

What is the point here? Most people who desire change in their life actually try Scenario #1 rather than Scenario #2, thus setting themselves up for failure by trying to change too many things at the same time!

Let’s adopt some Clarity and Focus in Exercise and Diet. For the next week, you are allowed one goal and one goal only relating to your fitness and nutrition. Be specific and meaningful here! For example, when practicing pull-ups, aim for one more unbroken rep than your previous PR. Or perhaps when eating out for lunch, have a lean meat and a dark, leafy green each day. Whatever you choose, be sure that at the end of the week, you can actually sit down and say that you’ve accomplished that goal! No ambiguity, vagueness, or lackluster goal-setting allowed.

Let’s take this a step further. Say that, like most people reading this blog, you partake in some sort of group exercise like CrossFit where your workouts are planned for you. How can you choose to make your own goals when someone else is designing the movements, reps, and sets each day? This is when you need to take individual accountability for your own movement practice. If the ‘WOD’ has back squats for strength but your goal is a 200-lb deadlift, then explain to your trainer that you are focusing on the deadlift that week. Similarly, if you really want to get that strict chin-up, then reduce the reps of banded/kipping/ring rows in the ‘WOD’ and do a few super-slow negatives each set.

I hope this has inspired some of you to reduce your scope and focus a bit more intently on what you want to accomplish. Take this concept and apply to other domains of your life. I have students in the drum corps world who are auditioning for indoor drumlines right now, and you better believe that they are doing nothing other than study, drum, eat, and sleep. Even if your job or family are your #1 priority (as they probably should be), you will still receive a greater return on your investment by gaining some Clarity and Focus in Exercise and Diet.

Thanks for reading!

Transcend and Include

Today’s post is inspired by Rich Froning, James FitzGerald, and Ken Wilber.

I’m in Georgia this month teaching Spirit of Atlanta Drum and Bugle Corps. A typical day is up at 7 AM for strength and conditioning: I train 150 members from 7:15 to 7:45 each morning. We do some basic barbell lifts on Mon-Wed-Fri, aerobic running intervals Tues-Thurs, a game day on Sat, and Sun off. Breakfast at 8, then rehearsal until noon. Lunch for an hour, then another 4 hours of rehearsal (all outside, mostly all in the sun) until dinner at 5:30 PM. After dinner there’s another 3 hours of rehearsal before a meeting and snack before lights out at 11:30 PM.

Long ass days! There is something to be said for learning how to work hard and push through times when you just don’t want to do it. Social, communal grit and flow experiences I would say. When I was marching as a member I distinctly remember learning how to breathe at The Cadets (so as to not pass out), how to get in the flow state at Bluecoats (I would stare off in the distance during our lot warm-ups and completely ‘get in the zone’), and how to perform my ass off at Rhythm X (watch the video).

Something I picked up from James FitzGerald over at OPT is the concept of “Transcend and Include.” In his field he meant that in the strength and conditioning world, you should always look to upgrade your fitness prescription by transcending the boundaries of your current practice to include the positives of other disciplines. Are you just lifting weights currently? Learn how to do some basic gymnastics. Are you just running long distance? Toss in some sprints. Are you “just CrossFitting”? How about checking out a yoga class, or even going to a different CrossFit gym while away from home?

Yesterday my snareline asked me how much of my teaching philosophy is taken from others and how much is originally mine. I said I stole everything! However, I think I have used the idea of “transcend and include” quite often throughout the years. Everything from Zen Buddhism to social pyschology to strength and conditioning has influenced the way I teach those 8 dudes how to play snare drum together. One day we’ll meditate, the next I’ll reference the flow state, and another we might alternate burpees with roll exercises. Transcend, and include.

Thanks for reading! Please post your comments below, especially if you’ve had any similar experiences.

CrossFit Charlottesville Programming

I recently got the opportunity to program the workouts at CrossFit Charlottesville for April and May. About three years ago I first read an article Greg Glassman wrote titled, “What is Fitness?”, and since then I’ve been hooked on the idea of concurrent strength and endurance training.

These next two months at our gym are going to highlight the Olympic lifts, gymnastics skill training, sustained aerobic power output, and short, intense anaerobic bursts, in addition to several classic CrossFit Girl / Hero WOD’s. My main source of inspiration and knowledge here comes straight from James FitzGerald over at Optimum Performance Training, a total badass who I got the pleasure to meet and listen to talk about fitness while I was in Austin, TX for the PaleoFX Theory to Practice Symposium.

In a nutshell, I’m totally stoked, not to mention totally nervous as to how this will all play out for all the amazing clients who commit their time to do the workouts we say! More to come in the future for sure about positives and negatives of the approach.

Also, been a while since I’ve posted any benchmarks. Recently clean and jerked over 200 pounds for the first time, and also pulled 385# in the deadlift. Snatched 155# for a triple somehow even though I thought it was my one-rep max, so that was fun. Looking to high-bar back squat (full range of motion) 300# sometime soon, as well as maybe get a one-arm chin-up by the end of the summer.

Last but not least, I’m traveling to Rhode Island this week to meet and learn from Charles Poliquin! To say this man is a behemoth in the world of strength and conditioning would be a drastic understatement. He popularized tempo training, speaks several languages, and has huge biceps. ‘Nuff said.

Current Workout Schedule

Here’s an insider’s peek into what I will be doing in and out of the gym for the next couple months:

A good mixture of Olympic lifting, squatting, sprinting, straight-arm and bent-arm pushing and pulling, skill, variety, and fun. Inspired by the following: California Strength, Catalyst Athletics, Eat Move Improve (and Overcoming Gravity), Ido Portal, Dan John, Pavel Tsatsouline, Beast Skills, and CrossFit.

Slow Down

A series of events recently have led me to rediscover the profound effect slowing things down can have. This post inspired by Eataly in New YorkCharles PoliquinFeist, and Mark Sisson.

In November I visited Eataly Café in New York City, a completely extravagant food environment definitely worth visiting. Founded by Mario Batali, Eataly was inspired by the Slow Food Movement, which tries to pull us back towards how food used to be prepared and enjoyed: slowly. Jenni and I have been cooking a lot recently, and I am trying to pick my restaurants wisely so as to keep in line with slow, local food. In Charlottesville you can never go wrong with Rev Soup or Brookville, and in Richmond The Empress is top-notch.

In the gym over the past couple months I have rekindled my relationship with the barbell. Two months of Reverse Pyramid Training ala Leangains led to some great new PR’s in the back squat and deadlift, and I enjoyed the low volume, high-intensity method. To avoid plateaus however, I am going to spend a month or so varying it up a bit. Here’s what the lifting scheme will look like:

Tuesday: Deadlift, Good Morning, Bench Press, Bent Row (10 x 3-5 @ 75%, tempo 30X2)

Thursday: Back Squat, GHD Sit-up, Shoulder Press, Chin-up (10 x 3-5 @ 75%, tempo 30X2)

So basically this is an “Advanced German Volume Training” as Charles Poliquin calls it, so I will hopefully not only get stronger but also get a little bigger. With the slow tempo I am geting around 25 seconds or so Time Under Tension per set, so this lifting scheme builds relative strength as well as hypertrophy. In summary, when lifting something away from the Earth, go quickly; when lowering it back down, count to 3. Exhausting, and hopefully effective.

On the music front, I’ve been on a total Feist kick recently. Great music to lift to if you aren’t a metalhead. Here’s “The Bad in Each Other” off of her newest album Metals:

Thanks for reading! Enjoy some slow time with friends and family this holiday season, perhaps with some slow food and slow lifting thrown in as well.

Tough Mudder recap

Yesterday I completed the Tough Mudder at the Wintergreen Resort outside of Charlottesville, VA. A group of 15 guys and gals from CrossFit Charlottesville made the trek, and it truly was a spectacular event. Being more of a challenge than a race, there were no race clocks, no one timed you, and the Tough Mudder staff emphasized helping your fellow Mudders during the event. There were 27 obstacles, including jumping into a dumpster full of ice, scaling several high walls and ramps, crawling through mud and sand, and walking through smoke and electrical fields.

Being somewhat of a culmination to my endurance-oriented season of training, I really enjoyed the multi-disciplinary nature of the Tough Mudder. The course required endurance and stamina to climb thousands of feet in elevation, yet it also required the coordination and strength to get yourself and others over various types of obstacles.

For example, I had to walk, run, balance, crawl, jump, climb, lift, and carry (8 of the 12 “capacities of movement” for Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat system). Throughout the course I also utilized several of the concepts I learned from Carl Paoli’s Freestyle Connections Seminar, such as hollow body positioning and muscle-up skills. Over the past couple years I have been informally studying Ido Portal’s Floreio Art, and while the Tough Mudder did not require me to perform a QDR push-up, I did draw upon the flow and mobility work to get under and over some of the trickier obstacles.

Lastly, during my weekend with Exuberant Animal I did learn some useful, basic Parkour moves, like how to roll and how to efficiently travel over a table (thanks to Colin from Fifth Ape); however, the most important tools I learned were the ability to be mindful while moving and how to be sensitive to the social cues from others. This component of camaraderie was huge: you helped your team, strangers helped you, and you helped strangers.

All in all, quite a day! The course took our team of 11 people just over 4 hours to complete, including lots of stops to strategize and re-group. Afterwards we were awarded with beers, Clif bars, protein shakes, and Tough Mudder attire. Then the CrossFit Charlottesville troupe traveled over to Fry Spring’s Station for more beer, pizza, and ice cream. Love it! Thanks for reading.