So you guessed it. Yes, I became a crossfitter, who would’ve thought, except my husband. He was adamant from the start that this would be the type of training and sport that I’d grow to love exponentially once I tried it, he was correct, for once (giggles). So the reason for this introduction? Well, I have the incredible privilege of being the “doc in the box” at Koshin CrossFit and crossfitters do make up a decent part of my patient base. It is one thing as a chiropractor to treat crossfitters, but to be one myself? As a medical practitioner, what are my thoughts on this “cult” as some may say or this “ridiculous” type of intense training?
Through personal observation, I do believe that some chiropractors have a dig at CrossFit. I have noticed a few practitioners expressing subtle comments about the movements and weights, and have had two patients present to me within the last month saying “my last chiropractor told me to stop CrossFit,” however, their ailments weren’t even CrossFit related. I guess I’m giving myself permission to scrutinize this topic and unpack my point of view because I use to be on the fence about this CrossFit thing BEFORE I had even tried it. We all makeup preconceived ideas about something by what we read on the internet (including ranting blogs that have no research foundations), or by someone else’s experience, whether good or bad. All these opinions dictate our outlook on something without ever being exposed to it correctly. All experiences are relative.
This is my outlook of CrossFit based on the research I’ve been exposed too, and this is MY experience as “Doc Lol in the box”. Before you roll your eyes (oh no, not another blog about the ins and outs of CrossFit), I encourage you to read on and gain some insight into one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, in my opinion.
So what is CrossFit actually? Let’s break it down for a better understanding because I don’t believe that the word “cult” should be used as a substitute for an individual’s lack of understanding of why a group of people are eager to workout together. Cross-fit is high-intensity interval training coupled with resistance training elements of powerlifting and gymnastics. It is constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement that aims to prepare the body for the unknown and the unknowable (Glassman, 2007). It incorporates a lot of what is already practiced in various sports or training programs, from rowing, swimming, running to squats, deadlifts, snatches and so much more; the difference: the high-intensity methods utilized (Smith et al., 2013). Basically in summary, ‘our speciality is not specialising’ (Glassman, 2007). I personally like to think of CrossFit as the kingpin of all cross-training, hence the term ‘CROSSfit’. You never do the same thing or combination of movements twice, unless you walk in, quickly peer across to the board and it reads some girls’ names like Fran, Grace or Angie. You know how hurricanes are named after females? Well, that gives you an indication of the havoc that is about to unfold when the countdown begins, 3… 2…1… But let us continue with the research.
Breaking down the definitions further, CrossFit is focused on “constantly varied, functional movements”. These are movements involving universal motor recruitment patterns, performed in a wave of contraction from core to extremity and they are compound movements, i.e. multi-joint. Basically, the best type of joint movement when performed correctly (I will get to technique later). This type of training involves gymnastics which increases strength, suppleness, and agility (Adamson, 2007), as well as power and weightlifting. Hedrick and Wada (2008) stated that the greater skill complexity required for weightlifting exercises facilitates the development of a broader physical abilities spectrum, which is transferred to improvements in athletic performance. Furthermore, they went on to explain the numerous benefits of weightlifting including the following: Bio-mechanical, neuromuscular, fiber adaptions, and benefits; increased lean body mass; neuroendocrine adaptions; improved balance, coordination, flexibility, and kinesthetic awareness.
So all this, yet CrossFit has some sort of negative stigma attached to it especially amongst healthcare practitioners. Well, it wouldn’t be fair-minded if I sat here writing about all the good stuff from a biased perspective. How about I unpack the stereotypes and “negative implications” for you; the poor technique, the overuse, the crazy intensity, and the rhabdomyolysis. Heard these attached to the word CrossFit before? Most certainly.
Yes, CrossFit is high-intensity which often means that movements are completed against time and frequently with heavy weights in many reps and sets. Generally, this leads to a state of fatigue, and accompanied with this, improper technique. But NOT always. Heavy lifting does require great technical skill and form due to high spinal loads (Hedrick and Wada, 2008). Therefore improper technique holds great risk for injury development, particularly to the low back ranging from strains to herniated discs (Lavallee and Balam, 2010). “You see, exactly my problem with CrossFit. Too much emphasis on getting through the workouts in a set time and not enough focus on form and technique.” Yup, I’m sure some of you were thinking along these lines. That’s okay, I use to say this too, and had already constructed these conclusions in my head.
And then there is rhabdomyolysis. If you haven’t heard of this, no stress, it’s a CrossFit thing, apparently. Rhabdomyolysis is the rapid breakdown and destruction of skeletal (moving) muscle resulting from intense athletic activity (medicine.net, 2018). The injured muscle cells subsequently leak into the circulation and cause electrolyte abnormalities and acidosis (Rathi, 2014). Insert a great deal of muscle pain, weakness and potential hospitalization. Sounds extreme right? However, in 2005, Glassman reported 5 cases of CrossFit induced rhabdomyolysis, FIVE, all of which made a recovery and returned to CrossFit training. Another study in 2013 (Hak, Hodzovic, and Hickey) looked at the prevalence of injuries during CrossFit training where no cases of rhabdomyolysis were reported. CrossFit can be intense, yes, but so are a lot of other sports and activities. The overall risk is minimal especially if the individual understands their body limitations.
Now that I’ve laid out the scrutiny of the negative, I have some rhetorical questions for you. Is there any sport that is injury-free? If CrossFit is so heedless, then why do most strength and conditioning coaches, as well as biokineticists incorporate these exact movement standards into their patient/client training programs? If you’re been to most regular gyms lately (not CrossFit affiliated), they have a “workout of the day (WOD)” presented for regular gym-goers to challenge themselves, or training classes structured around a very similar, if not identical program design. Is this not CrossFit? Hmmm…
Every sport has its flaws, and every sport has a risk of injury. Injuries are expected at any competitive level. Now when it comes to CrossFit, how does one manage and reduce injury risk? Well this is where all my negatives were answered, and by answered I mean, disintegrated. Being part of an affiliated CrossFit box, with certified CrossFit coaches, providing high-quality program design and implementing good technique patterns, injuries are uncommon. Koshin CrossFit is founded on the principles of ‘Live. Laugh. Lift‘ and is owned and run by two phenomenal (certified!) coaches, Ryan Brennan (aka Strech) and Nats Meaker, both of which not only do CrossFit but have achieved provincial and national colours for respective sports on numerous occasions. They are not just hardcore crossfitters. They believe their members need to be set up for fun, functionality, and success, hence the part I get to play as “doc in the box”. The benefits of this: injury surveillance and introspective input of how much is too much when it comes to fatigue and potential technique issues. And as the coaches would say, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast!” Furthermore, the relationship I get to develop with the members that see me for treatment is truly distinctive. And trust me, based on my practice experience with crossfitters up to this point, I have not seen major CrossFit injuries at all. If anything, the members have come to understand that because they work their bodies hard and the training regime can be intense, they focus more on maintenance care and ensuring they are subluxation free and moving well. On other occasions, members receive treatment for niggles, the majority of which existed previous to beginning CrossFit.
Yes, we spoke about lifting heavy weights for many reps and sets, and the fact that fatigue sets in leading to improper technique. Thankfully CrossFit is diverse and this is not always the case, and actually never has to be either. CrossFit can be scaled meaning it can be adapted to be less intense based on a person’s abilities and presence of any incorrect movement patterns or injuries. You do not HAVE to lift heavy weights or lift heavy weights fast. You do not have to walk on your hands or climb a rope. The beauty of CrossFit is adaptation. I read an article where one healthcare practitioner said, “There is no way inexperienced people doing this are not going to get hurt.” Yes, that is what experienced coaches are for and why people are encouraged to do CrossFit at affiliated CrossFit boxes, not regular gyms. I am inexperienced at rock climbing, hence if I rock climb without adequate guidance, I am sure I’ll come off second best. This makes logical sense. Coaches are there to guide you accordingly in this array of challenging movements. If you can’t perform a regular bodyweight squat with proper technique, you shouldn’t be using a barbell, simple!!
The human body can be pushed to do unbelievable things and CrossFit provides a platform for that to unfold. The magnitude of skill required is complex enough to humble you in one way or another. CrossFit embodies its own language from WOD, AMRAP, EMOM, RFT, The Open, Murph, bear complex, RX, scaled to Sally Up (that’s when you know body parts are going to hurt). It encourages sweat, commitment, accountability, and hard work, and it is a gathering place for like-minded individuals to be challenged, whilst having a good time. How do you know someone is a crossfitter? They tell you, duh! Why? Because each individual loves it that much! I have never come across an athletic community that supports the person that finishes “last” more so than CrossFit. It is remarkably inspiring. Yes, you can get injured but that is not CrossFits’ fault, that is called personal responsibility, combined with potential bad luck or mishaps, like any sport! We all have physical boundaries and limits, know them well and be aware of them. If someone wants to take the CrossFit thing too far, that’s their choice. Trust me, ego will get you injured a lot quicker than CrossFit will.
This is not me claiming to be a professional about all the dynamics of CrossFit, I’m far from that. Neither is this me promoting CrossFit from the comfort of my computer screen. This is me giving you my experience and interpretation from both sides of the spectrum, and providing you with the information you need to potentially alter your perspective. CrossFit may not be for everyone, this is 100% correct, but I doubt that’s because of a body type, as some will say, and I truly hope it isn’t because you were too nervous or too proud to try.
The next time we find ourselves criticising something based on preconceived ideas read on the internet, whether it’s CrossFit or any other form of exercise or sport, be it cycling, karate, boxing, etc; let’s think again and either reserve comment or rather experience it firsthand for ourselves.
This is me, the cross fitting chiropractor, who favours conditioning my body to be functionally prepared for the unknown and unknowable, way above being efficient at a single joint, static movement.
“There are no real wrong methods to training or exercising, so long as you are getting out there and keeping up your health; we’re pumped to give you a virtual high 5! BUT, if you like listening to loud music, sweating a whole bunch and hanging around with like-minded people all of whom are on a mission to better themselves, and if you want to see what all the fuss is about then give us a shout. They say you should surround yourself with those people who support you, we disagree. You should surround yourself with people who want to see you achieve your own goals and who will rally together in order to push, pull and drag you toward that goal no matter what the circumstances. We want you to set those fitness goals for yourself, then come into our CrossFit box and see just how acquaintances become lifelong friends, and strangers become best friends all in the pursuit of achieving each other’s goals. There is no need to go at it alone when there are those people who will gladly jump into whatever hole of despair you may think you are in, to help you be your best version of YOU. This is Koshin CrossFit – LIVE – LAUGH – LIFT.” Strech (box owner and coach).
Doc Lol x
Inspiring you to Move. Heal. Excel.