Why Cross Fit and all “fad” training concepts are dangerous

Here’s a great article form the New York Times. It pretty much reiterates everything I’ve been preaching for the last 15 years. Dont buy into everything people put in front of you. Do your due diligence. Do research. Dont drink the cool aid.

December 22, 2005
Physical Culture
Getting Fit, Even if It Kills You
By STEPHANIE COOPERMAN
WHILE many gymgoers complain that they might not survive a tough workout, Brian Anderson can speak from experience. For his first CrossFit session, he swung a 44-pound steel ball with a handle over his head and between his legs. The aim was to do 50 quick repetitions, rest and repeat. After 30 minutes, Mr. Anderson, a 38-year-old member of the special weapons and tactics team in the sheriff’s office in Tacoma, Wash., left the gym with his muscles sapped and back pain so excruciating that he had to lie in the driveway to collect himself. That night he went to the emergency room, where doctors told him he had rhabdomyolysis, which is caused when muscle fiber breaks down and is released into the bloodstream, poisoning the kidneys. He spent six days in intensive care.
Yet six months later Mr. Anderson, a former Army Ranger, was back in the gym, performing the very exercises that nearly killed him. “I see pushing my body to the point where the muscles destroy themselves as a huge benefit of CrossFit,” he said. In the last year this controversial exercise program has attracted a growing following of thousands nationwide, who log on to CrossFit.com for a daily workout, said its founder, Greg Glassman. Participants skip StairMasters and weight machines. Instead they do high-intensity workouts that mix gymnastics, track and field skills and bodybuilding, resting very little between movements.

The emphasis is on speed and weight hoisted, not technique. And the importance placed on quantifiable results has attracted hard-charging people like hedge fund managers, former Olympians and scientists. But some exercise experts are troubled by the lack of guidance for beginners, who may dive into stressful workouts as Mr. Anderson did. (He had not worked out regularly for two years.) “There’s no way inexperienced people doing this are not going to hurt themselves,” said Wayne Winnick, a sports medicine specialist in private practice in Manhattan, who also works for the New York City Marathon. Other critics say that even fit people risk injury if they exercise strenuously and too quickly to give form its due, as CrossFit participants often do. For people who like to push the limits of fitness and strength – there are many police officers, firefighters and military personnel in the ranks of CrossFit athletes – the risks are worth it, because they consider it the most challenging workout around. The short grueling sessions aren’t for the weekend gym warrior. The three-days-on, one-day-rest schedule includes workouts like “Cindy”: 20 minutes of as many repetitions as you can of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 squats. “Fight Gone Bad” entails rotating through five exercises, including throwing a 20-pound ball at a target 10 feet away. And only veteran CrossFit devotees even attempt, and few complete, “Murph,” a timed mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and then a second mile run. (A weighted vest is optional.)

Mr. Glassman, CrossFit’s founder, does not discount his regimen’s risks, even to those who are in shape and take the time to warm up their bodies before a session. “It can kill you,” he said. “I’ve always been completely honest about that.”
But CrossFitters revel in the challenge. A common axiom among practitioners is “I met Pukey,” meaning they worked out so hard they vomited. Some even own T-shirts emblazoned with a clown, Pukey. CrossFit’s other mascot is Uncle Rhabdo, another clown, whose kidneys have spilled onto the floor presumably due to rhabdomyolysis.
Mr. Glassman, 49, a former gymnast from Santa Cruz, Calif., walks with a slight limp because of a knee injury, and at 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds admits he should lose weight. He began developing CrossFit more than two decades ago, but he says that he spends so much time running the business now that he no longer regularly does the routines. At first his program was a hard sell to clients who weren’t keen to climb ropes or grapple with gymnastic rings.
Then in 2001 he launched CrossFit.com and began publishing a monthly journal and holding seminars at his California gym. People from around the world have come to learn Mr. Glassman’s techniques. Today CrossFit has more than 50 affiliates in 21 states and 5 countries, Mr. Glassman said. And CrossFit.com has 25,000 unique visitors a week, according to WebSideStory, a Web analytics company in Seattle. Mr. Glassman’s followers call him Coach and share a cultlike devotion to his theories. “We are all drinking the Kool-Aid,” said Eugene Allen, another Tacoma SWAT team member who introduced Mr. Anderson to CrossFit last summer. “It’s hard not to catch Coach’s enthusiasm.”
Getting Fit, Even if It Kills You. Devotees say CrossFit has enabled them to challenge their bodies in ways they never thought possible. Eva Twardokens, 40, an Olympic alpine skier in the 1992 and 1994 Games, said years of CrossFit training have enabled her to bench-press 155 pounds, 20 more than she could when she was training for the Olympics.

Tariq Kassum, 31, a research analyst in New York, found both the workout community and the variety of difficult exercises he was looking for. Online, where some participants record their workout progress, people cheered him on as his upper-body strength increased. When he started CrossFit, Mr. Kassum was unable to do a handstand, but after a year with the program he can do push-ups from that position. CrossFit exercises can be made more or less intense based on a person’s abilities, but the workouts are the same for everyone, from marines to senior citizens. And some critics say that is a big part of what’s wrong. “My concern is that one cookie-cutter program doesn’t apply to everyone,” said Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise. He said people in their 60’s who have osteoporosis, for example, may not be able to do an overhead press, pushing a barbell over one’s head.
CrossFit enthusiasts are also criticized for being cavalier about the injuries they sustain, including chronic soreness, pulled muscles and even some separated shoulders. Norma Loehr, 37, a vice president for a financial services company in New York, was sidelined for a week after she strained her back doing “Three Bars of Death,” 10 sets of 3 lifts using barbells that weigh up to one and a half times as much as the person using them. She realized the barbells were too heavy, but she didn’t want to waste the seconds it would have taken to change plates. Mr. Glassman said that he has never been sued by an injured client and that paramedics have never had to treat one of his clients in his gym. But he acknowledged that as many as six CrossFit participants have suffered rhabdomyolysis, which often sets in more than a day after
excessive exercise. After they complete the workout of the day, hundreds of people post their times and the amount they have lifted on the Web site, making CrossFit a competitive online sport.
“When I first started the program, I could barely do a pull-up, so I was embarrassed to post,” Mr. Kassum said. “Now that I can do 20 or 30, I’m on there every day. People on there are animals.”

Those people include Kelly Moore, a 42-year-old Wisconsin police dispatcher and former powerlifter who is 5 feet tall and 117 pounds and has eight-pack abs. Her self-reported statistics have become the stuff of legend on CrossFit.com, inspiring both praise (“Pull-ups with a broken hand? You rock!”) and amazement that she beats most men on the site. (“I’ll be chasing Kelly until I die. At this rate, literally.”) CrossFit has an especially large number of police, firefighter and military participants. Members of Navy Seals, Air Force Pararescue and Special Forces groups also do workouts. And though it is not recognized as an official military regimen, CrossFit has drawn the attention of people in charge of military preparation. Capt. Timothy Joyce teaches CrossFit to marines in the Fleet Support Division in Barstow, Calif. And Capt. J. T. Williams, the chief standards officer at the Canadian Infantry School, where officers are trained, helped run a six-week trial where
half of the participants followed the school’s fitness program and half did CrossFit workouts. He declared CrossFit “very effective.”
In recent months a group of New York CrossFit athletes have tried unsuccessfully to find a home gym. Joshua Newman, the group’s organizer, said gym managers expressed concerns that they took up too much space, or even that their fast and furious pull-ups would break the apparatus. “They used too many pieces of equipment at one time, and we got a lot of complaints from trainers who didn’t like being on the floor with them,” said Eric Slayton, the owner of New York Underground Fitness, a Midtown gym that Crossfit New York called home for a few weeks. “They put too much emphasis on getting things done in a certain amount of time and not enough on form.” But for Mr. Glassman, dismissals of his extreme workouts merely help him weed out people he considers weak-willed. “If you find the notion of falling off the rings and breaking your neck so foreign to you, then we don’t want you in our ranks,” he said.

Boot Camps

We obviously have our own bootcamp, so it may seem silly to rant on how stupid boot camps are, but when I’m done I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
Boot camps are typically some no necked, meat headed ex military guy who’s only experience in the fitness field is that he used to be in the marines, still is on steroids and watches the latest on MMA training on Spike TV. The best part is that out of shape housewives all over the country are signing up for these classes in droves.
This past year I finally gave in and started our own bootcamp, because there is just no way to deny its popularity and its a great way to make a profit. But i decided that if we were going to do this, we were going to do it in the safest most effective way and have the best and biggest one in the country. We have accomplished our goal!
What’s really ironic is that all these women, and to a lesser extent men, are hoping to get into a class with an exercise “expert” so they can safely get in shape, lose weight and feel better. Of course what ultimately happens is that they get yelled at for and hour, 2 x per week and are forced to perform mechanically incorrect, injury causing exercises that usually results in incredible soreness that lasts for more than a week. Again, ironically, this to most of these women, is an indicator to just how good their bootcamp instructor is. Just a bit of info: if your workouts are so hard that its hard for you to sit on a toilet for over a week, that’s not a good thing! You should have a small amount of soreness after each workout. That means that you are keeping the workouts challenging. But excessive soreness and pain actually means that your trainer is probably clueless and that you will almost definitely get hurt.
So how should Boot Camps be run? Well first you should have a trainer with a lot of group fitness experience and a great knowledge human biomechanics. It should be tough and maybe even really tough, but functionally correct with an emphasis on injury prevention. It should also include ALL elements of fitness. Flexibility, stability, cardio, strength training, core training, balance, agility and athleticism. Most that i have seen just focus on running you into the ground until you throw up. Again any idiot can yell at you “give me 20 push ups, run around those cones, jump on that box ect…, but only a fitness expert can make sure that the modalities of those exercises are functionally correct and can make sure that the whole class doesn’t get hurt.
3 big keys to make sure that the boot camp class you are considering is worth it:
1. Make sure that they will offer you a free session. If they believe in what they are doing, they will want you to try it first and make sure you are comfortable with it.
2. Classes should not exceed 15 participant per trainer. There is no way 1 person can make sure that 50 people are doing everything correctly.
3. Make they aren’t just “fad” or “copycat” trainers. Remember, almost all of these “instructors” have no real knowledge of how to train properly, so they just copy everyone else. If your throwing kettelbells all over the place and flipping 400lb tires, that’s a good indicator that they are “copycat” or “fad” trainers.

Our classes are based in function, general fitness and injury prevention. Don’t get me wrong, they are very challenging, but also non intimidating. We have several different class levels available. And the best part is if you have at least 3 people, we will set a class day and time any time you want that fits YOUR schedule. We have the only indoor / outdoor year round boot camp (complete with trails and adventure tower) in the entire state!

Owner of The Sports Conditioning Institute