What is CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret and Can It Really Kill You?

By Steve Hall

September 27, 2013

*We may earn a commission for purchases made using our links. Please see our Disclaimer to learn more.

Since its inception CrossFit has either been loved or hated. Is it the new wave in fitness or just another trend? Whatever the case may be CrossFit is here and its becoming even more popular.

CrossFit, the brain child of Greg Glassman, the self-proclaimed “Rabid Libertarian”. Somewhat of a non-conformist, Glassman created these “workouts of the day” also known as “WODs” while acting as a personal trainer in Southern California. He was known for his whacky routines. The same routines that got him kicked out of many gyms and eventually lead him to Santa Cruz where he began training programs with the Sheriff’s department. Upon settling down in Santa Cruz, CrossFit was born.

A mixture of gymnastics, weightlifting, calisthenics, and all together randomness. Glassman believes this method of training best resembled our more primitive states. However deeply embedded in the bowels of CrossFit is the philosophy that exercises should be for time, or for reps in a given time, so that no one slacked off.

Is this philosophy CrossFit’s greatest downfall?

CrossFit Workouts and Human Nature’s Natural Competitiveness

By nature CrossFit workouts are designed to be intense. They mimic “real world” events and boast the claim that CrossFit builds functional strength. Seems legit. In CrossFit’s pure adulterated form it seems like the perfect combination. Until we throw people into the mix.

Humanity thrives on competition. Outdoing and overachieving. Thats what makes us unique. And quite frankly thats what brings us together in many cases. Sports are some of the top industries. Fans are fanatical about their teams and their players. Athletes want to be the best always. Even dating back to ancient times, competition is heavily engrained in our lives.

Which brings me back to CrossFit. Albeit there is some merit in Glassman’s way of thinking. Adding humanity’s competitiveness and ego, I believe, is partly what causes such a negative connotation towards CrossFit. Things tend to be taken to far. Trainees work past breaking points in an effort to outdo another competitor opening the door for serious injuries. Injuries that potentially can become life threatening if not taken seriously.

In Walks “Uncle Rhabdo” and His Dirty Little Secret

uncle_RhabdoWhat has been known around CrossFit circles for some time is now breaking light for us commoners. CrossFit has a dirty little secret and it goes by the name “Uncle Rhabdo”, a fictional clown character dis-embowled and hooked up to a dialysis machine. Uncle Rhabdo portrays the more serious side-effects of CrossFits dirty little secret, Rhabdomyolysis.

Rhabdomyolysis is uncool and potentially fatal condition. In short, under extreme circumstances your muscles explode. Protein leaches in your blood stream. Your kidneys are left to take up the job of clearing the dangerous myoglobin proteins. Which can easily overload the kidneys, cause severe injury to all or parts of the kidneys in short amounts of time, and leave your the muscles damaged.

The most extreme cases of Rhabdomyolysis can consist of the loss of a limb unless a procedure called fasciotomy is performed. The cutting open of the connective tissue to release swelling.

Cases of Rhabdo that have been reported in CrossFit date back to 2005. In the CrossFit Journal there was even an article discussing the fact that Rhado exists and it gave 5 examples of such situations. Since 2005 there is no telling how many more cases of Rhabdo have been added to the list. Or even their severity. What can be said in each of the cases reported the individual recovered and returned to their CrossFit workouts.

While in my opinion it is truly unfair to blame CrossFit solely for this dirty little secret and its potential dangers. But, something has to be said about CrossFit’s culture. Yes the lifter is solely responsible for his/her body. However when you have coaches yelling at you to “giddy up” and Johnny Rockets over there blowing through his “WOD” in no time, the point where one should stop becomes the point where they keep going.

The Lighter Side of CrossFit Training

I can see how the style of workouts created initially could be a great benefit. It seems that most people are looking for an easy way to get fit. Now by no means am I saying that CrossFit is an easy way to get fit, we all know that based on what we see and hear its ‘hard”. What I mean is that any Tom, Dick, and Harry can sign up for a class and get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. Most people don’t want to spend hours in a gym and then even more time doing cardio. Hell even the people that want to spend hours in the gym don’t want to spend time doing cardio.

CrossFit has managed to find a way that can encompass multiple aspects of fitness together in one neat little package. As a whole CrossFit workouts can be very beneficial for people that want to just be generally fit. I just don’t agree with how the workouts are done. Form should always be a lifters main focus over weight. Once form is learned and controlled strength is increased overtime thus allowing for more weight to be used gradually. I think that people who want to do CrossFit style lifts could benefit immensely if they ixnayed the whole time constraint hoopla.

With that being said CrossFit isn’t really anything new. Circuit training has existed for quite sometime. Either way in retrospect, CrossFit itself cannot kill you. But it sure can try. If your going to participate in CrossFit be aware of the risks. Like any exercise program there are always risks. Learn to listen to your body. If you have worked to the max take sometime off and rest. Avoid getting hurt by making good decisions.


Social box scroll stop element

Steve Hall

Steve is a strength training fanatic who geeks out over the best, most efficient workouts, nutrition and gear to help get you stronger and healthier!

More to explore

Whether you’re just starting out or starting again, these strength training for beginners workout routines are the best to get your body back in shape and ready for [...]

Strength Training For Beginners – Workout Plans

The name sissy squat is hardly any indication of the level of gusto required to perform this quad trembling feat. In fact there isn’t anything sissy about this [...]

Sissy Squat – Don’t Let The Name Fool You

The Shark skill test is a performance test designed to measure lower body agility, muscle control and single leg functional balance.It is a progression from single-leg squat assessments [...]

The Shark Skill Test