CrossFit Could Cause Your Muscle Cells to Explode
Doctors warn of dangers of rhabdomyolysis
By Newsy, a Newser Video Partner
Posted Feb 28, 2014 9:22 AM CST
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(Newser) – Next time you're pushing for one more rep in the gym, it might be better to just stop. Doctors across the country are arguing the popular CrossFit workout could do more harm than good. The cross-training program urges exercisers to go harder and faster, all while pushing through their limits. But going too far with these strenuous drills could cause a condition called rhabdomyolysis. "Rhabdo," for short, causes muscle cells to literally explode, flooding blood vessels with their contents and, in extreme cases, causing kidney failure. One woman said it was more painful than childbirth. The condition is on the rise as CrossFit grows increasingly popular, with over 6,000 affiliated gyms in the United States.

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Roddy Pfeiffer
Feb 28, 2014 7:50 PM CST
I don't understand the purpose of doing all this exercise. It doesn't make you healthier or let you live longer.
David Hoyt
Feb 28, 2014 5:03 PM CST
I love Crossfit and it has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I’m 41 years old and in the best shape of my life. With regards to rhabdo, here is what my coach had to say in response to another article that circulated last year on the subject. FYI: My coach, Mike Westerling, currently trains the worlds strongest woman and 3 of the top 5 strongest men. He’s a crossfit coach with a strongman background: Mike Westerling RHABDO, IT’S NO SECRET Lately there’s been an article circulating on Facebook called “CrossFit’s dirty little secret”. It talks about a condition called rhabdo. It calls out CrossFit and says rhabdo is so common in CrossFit that every coach knows about it and we even have a mascot called “Uncle Rhabdo”. Here’s what they don’t mention: Rhabdo is extremely rare and has a variety of contributing factors and causes other than intense exercise alone. Usually it is caused by a combo of factors such as drugs and dehydration combined with prolonged intense exercise greater than the individual is accustomed. Rhabdo seems to be most common in the military. Doing a Google search on actual cases revealed the most amount of data came from the military and for the most part cases were mild and didn’t need hospitalization. Rhabdo is well known and documented in endurance based sports circles especially ultra-marathons and triathalons where athletes are exposed to extreme periods of prolonged stress. For the most part they gloss over it and say there needs to be “the perfect storm” of additional factors for it to be truly dangerous. CrossFit takes great care to educate it’s coaches about rhabdo and uses “Uncle Rhabdo” as a tool to help make the learning fun and memorable. This way the experienced coach can make sure programming is written to keep athletes safe and the warning signs are well known on the off chance it does happen. Most CrossFit workouts are under 20 minutes and most boxes either offer an “on ramp” class to break beginners in slowly or scale down the beginners workload so they can hang in the regular class without getting over worked. Contrast that with running hundreds of miles or grinding your way through bootcamp in the hot sun wearing full fatigues and gear weighing upwards of a hundred pounds. CrossFit went from a free website with a “workout of the day” to a worldwide sensation with zero advertising; only word of mouth. People were so happy with the results they got they spread the news like wildfire, not because everyone got rhabdo and died. People in general are insecure. In the workout world it may be even more so. Athlete’s jump from program to program looking for the magic workout and tend to try and discredit anything that runs contrary to their current routine. Triathlete’s think they are the epitome of fitness. Weightlifters, powerlifters and strongmen think anyone who doesn’t train heavy is weak. Runners think running is the only exercise of value. CrossFitters think well rounded is more important than specialized. It’s all good, except when people feel their belief system is threatened they will lash out and attack that which threatens them in an effort to feel better about themselves Rhabdo, in almost all cases occurs when an athlete takes on a significantly greater than normal volume of training. What’s significant? It seems to depend on the individual. That’s why it’s important to choose a coach you trust that has been working with athletes for decades that understands how to properly increase an athlete’s workload so it can be tolerated. Not just read some program with a catchy name and decide it’s the perfect plan for everyone. Newbies to training need to be kept in check with regards to weight selection and total training volume. If the break in period focuses on technique and just getting moving before intensity, and then brought along at a reasonable pace the individual should be well adapted and ready for higher intensity training in a fairly short time. Even more important is the training of an athlete that has been at a high level and taken some time off or been restricted in the movements they could perform. These athletes are at risk because they have the mental capacity (along with systemic conditioning in the ones who’ve been training hard on restricted duty) and can really push their bodies and/or the untrained muscles far beyond what a raw beginner could do and therefor are capable of much more muscle breakdown. Combine that with the probability that they have a greater amount of muscle mass available for break down in the first place and it becomes even more important to find an experienced coach and take their advice. In 30 years of coaching all types of athletes I’ve only personally known 2 people who have had rhabdo. The first got it years before I met him when, as an untrained newbie, he joined a commercial gym and his “introductory personal training session” involved a juiced up meathead putting him through a huge volume of bodybuilding style leg training. The second got it after a brutal DAY LONG CrossFit competition in the hot sun. I don’t know any of the details of her training/diet/life leading up to the show but there where a hundred competitors that day that didn’t get rhabdo so I’d assume there had to be other contributing factors than just the competition. While it always pays to be aware of the risk, if you can check your ego at the door, stay well hydrated and listen to an experienced coaches advice it’s a safe bet it’s something you don’t need to worry about.
Feb 28, 2014 12:08 PM CST
So with P90X, my muscles were confused, but with CrossFit my muscles explode? *heads for couch.