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.

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.