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CrossFit: Be Armed With Common Sense When Doing Military-Style Workouts

March 11, 2014 12:08 AM

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By Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

It is America’s latest fitness craze – and it’s not without controversy. Military-style fitness programs like CrossFit, P90X and Insanity are intense strength and conditioning regimens that some say are the best workouts you can get. Others warn they can cause injury.

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

“The boot camp mentality motivates athletes to try harder, to dig deeper,” explains Dr. Joseph DeAngelis, orthopedic surgeon and Director of Sports Medicine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “It works well for some people. But others may be putting themselves at risk.”

CrossFit, which is done at official CrossFit gyms (called “boxes”), aims to improve muscular strength, endurance and flexibility using a variety of different activities including aerobics, weight training, gymnastics, and more.

The company was founded by Greg Glassman in California in 2000. There are some 7,000 affiliated gyms, and a number of law enforcement agencies, and even professional sports teams, who have adopted their programming.

“Glassman’s belief is that you can’t define fitness with a single activity or event. The fittest athletes should be able to perform any activity at any time,” says Dr. DeAngelis.

“Those who join CrossFit pride themselves on being the fittest athletes in the world.”

The training includes various methods. Classes typically last for one hour and include a unique workout each day, the Workout Of the Day or W.O.D. “One day you may be flipping truck tires. The next, you’re completing handstands or climbing a rope,” explains Dr. DeAngelis.

“CrossFit draws on a sense of community. Many workouts are designed to be done as a team and there is stiff competition within and among gyms,” Dr. DeAngelis explains. “The competitive spirit can be a real motivator. But it does cause some people to push too hard.”

Similar home workout programs like P90X and Insanity, sold on the web and through infomercials, also push participants using a strenuous circuit of exercises. Critics say these extreme workouts and the sub-maximal exertion they require can cause injury.

In rare cases, athletes can suffer from a rare, potentially fatal complication called rhabdomyolisis. This condition occurs when muscle fibers break down too rapidly after extreme exertion and release their contents into the bloodstream. It can result in blood in the urine, vomiting, painful swelling throughout the body, and confusion. Ultimately, the condition can lead to kidney failure or, in the most severe cases, cardiac arrest.

“You need to take the time to ease into this type of routine. If you are not in great shape, it would be difficult to show up at a CrossFit gym and compete,” says Dr. DeAngelis, who has seen a growing number of patients with shoulder and knee injuries after a quick indoctrination into high tempo fitness.

He suggests looking for a CrossFit gym that has an “on-ramp” program that eases new members into the system and to beware of trainers that are overly aggressive.

One advantage of these high-intensity interval training (HIIT) programs is their popularity. Dr. DeAngelis notes, “They are getting people moving-some who have never exercised before.” But he urges common sense.

“Injuries can happen with any activity if you do too much too fast,” he says. “You have to know what you are doing and be safe.”

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2014

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