There seem to be more and more people deeply involved in fitness communities. My wife and I attended a party a few years ago in which it appeared that everybody there except for us was part of an intensive workout regimen that a boxer-turned trainer ran out of his home. The appeal of such exercise communities seems clear. They address at least 3 major human needs. The first is the desire for friendships, community, and belonging. The second is to be a good steward of our bodies. It feels great to feel and look healthy. The third is a sense of accomplishment and growth. People in these programs are clearly gratified at the improvements they’ve made in strength and endurance. CrossFit has been especially deft at tapping into exercise-community Zeitgeist. As Ross Pomeroy reports:
Thirteen years have passed since Gregg Glassman founded CrossFit. In that time, over 6,100 affiliate gyms have opened, attracting thousands of professional and everyday athletes. What once was considered a fad has grown commonplace. Across the United States, thousands of gallons of sweat pour to the ground amidst struggled exhalations induced by intense workouts. It’s masochism on a never-before-seen scale.
What is CrossFit? Pomeroy explains that
CrossFit is an exercise program that blends strength and aerobic training into short, intense workouts. These workouts are often conducted once per day for three adjoining days, followed by one day of rest. In this respect, it’s very similar to high-intensity interval training. But what sets CrossFit apart is both the exercises it recommends and the mindset it imparts. CrossFitters employ a varied blend of dynamic, functional weightlifting exercises that recruit multiple large muscle groups — deadlifts, squats, snatches, and pull-ups, for example. At the same time, they eschew typical lifts like curls and those offered by weight machines.
CrossFitters combine these exercises into challenging workouts that often include speed and agility components as well. A typical CrossFit workout will recommend that the work be completed “for time.” In other words, the exerciser should complete the lifts as fast as possible. That’s where cardiovascular and competitive aspects enter. Most CrossFitters mightily struggle to set new personal records at every turn. Their workouts aren’t simply means to a goal (such as losing weight); they are the goals.
A recent study conducted at Ohio State University showed remarkable benefits from CrossFit workout methods.
Researchers assigned 54 healthy participants to a five-day per week CrossFit-based exercise program that lasted ten weeks. The 43 participants that competed the program saw incredible improvements in measures of aerobic fitness and body composition. Maximum aerobic capacity grew by 13.6% for men and 11.8% for women. At the same time, male participants’ body fat decreased from 22.2% to 18% and female participants’ fell from 26.6% to 23.2%. Both men and women also enjoyed significant increases in lean muscle mass. What’s more, the improvements in aerobic fitness and body composition were significant when broken down across participants’ initial fitness levels. In other words, people of all shapes and sizes saw tremendous physical improvements.
The only possible downside to CrossFit that the study revealed was a propensity for participants to develop injuries. Pomeroy reports that
Of the eleven subjects who dropped out of the workout program, nine cited overuse or injury as the key motivator for their choice to discontinue. Moreover, the injuries occurred despite the fact that all of the workouts were supervised by certified professionals.
Why do such injuries tend to occur with CrossFit?
CrossFit is often a fiery program, pushing participants to the very limits. Repeated fatigue can attenuate muscular control and cause exercisers to revert to poor form, creating an atmosphere conducive to potentially debilitating overuse injuries. Moreover, overexertion is a real concern. CrossFit trainers regularly warn about the dangers of fatigue-fueled rhabdomyolysis, where muscle breaks down rapidly and enters the blood stream, a condition that can lead to kidney failure.
Pomeroy concludes his report by writing
All in all, as the new study makes clear, the purported results of CrossFit are very real, but the potential drawbacks are, too.
Although I’m hesitant to add any more activities to my already full life, I’m curious to try Cross-Fit. I’d be interested to hear about any other people’s experiences with it.