CrossFit seems to be taking over the fitness world: with over 12,000 locations and hundreds of thousands of CrossFit addicts - it's the game changer of full body workouts. In only 15 years, it has officially become the largest chain of gyms in history.
CrossFit absolutely has many perks to it's structure: It's a massive workout in a short time frame and it’s structured around interval training and weights - which is guaranteed to help lean you out and build muscle.
But CrossFit's most recent 60 Minutes profile, gave it a glowing reference bordering more frequently on infomercial than an actual investigative report.
Before we start knocking the latest in fitness trends, we do have to mention that anything that gets someone off the couch and moving in a society where most are overweight - is great in our books.
However for the sake of the argument, let's take a look at three of the biggest health criticisms around CrossFit and why it may actually not be the answer to all of your problems.
1. The Paleo Diet Is Overrated
A key part of the CrossFit culture is built around how to eat right. In the CrossFit world this is "The Cave Man Diet". Aka - paleo. Heavy on meat and veggies. Yes, the Paleo diet can help you lose weight quickly. But that's what one does when they abandon processed foods like white bread and potato chips. However, blindly believing that the Paleo diet is the answer to all of our nutritional needs is definitely putting the "cave man" status of thinking to the forefront.
Not to mention, this diet can also be exceptionally restrictive; many on it avoid dairy, beans and other common foods, because ancient humans didn’t have access to them.
The fact is, we have evolved over the last 10,000 years and the paleo diet ignores the fact that our ancestors didn't exactly have the long lifespans we have these days - largely due to nutrition. Point blank: there was no "one-size fits all" in the Palaeolithic era - and there definitely isn't now.
So you love Paleo, that's fine! But before you jump to a new diet bandwagon, consider this: U.S. News & World Report meta-review of 35 diets, the Paleo diet was ranked #34 — tied with the Dukan diet as the worst on the list. The magazine noted that it lacked sufficient nutrition, among other problems.
In fact, just last week Tufts University researcher Susan Roberts wrote to the New York Times,
“There are no responsible studies to support the healthfulness of a modern Paleo diet”
2. Crossfit’s Injury Risk Is Higher Than Acknowledged
It's no surprise that CrossFit's high-volume, non-stop pace can raise some concerns about safety.
Not surprisingly, regular CrossFitters admit that they love being pushed to the edge. In fact, even the founder is very up front about the risks:
“It can kill you, I’ve always been completely honest about that.”
So what are the studies saying? Turns out - there aren't many that actually speak to CrossFit's safety.
That being said, one of the few we found from writer at Vox, Julia Belluz said that studies “have revealed alarming trauma rates” among CrossFit athletes.
This 2013 study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, was designed to look at the frequency of injury in CrossFit athletes during routine training. Of the 132 people who responded to the survey, 97 (or nearly three-quarters) reported getting hurt during CrossFit training, and most injuries involved the shoulders and spine. These respondents reported a total of 186 injuries; nine led to surgeries.
Another study, in Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that shoulder and low-back injuries were most common, followed by knee injuries.
Workouts aside, CrossFit hasn’t been kind to scientists. In an infamous case, Ohio State researchers that investigated CrossFit’s effects on health and fitness are now facing multiple lawsuits, even though their findings were mostly positive for CrossFit.
One epidemiologist at the American Sports Medicine Institute told ESPN’s Mark Fainaru-Wada that he worries the lawsuits will lead to less willingness to investigate the workouts in the future.
3. The Actual Health Benefits Of Intense Workouts Aren’t Clear
The problem is that we don’t know if extreme workouts are the way to go, either.
Cardiologist Lisa Rosenbaum and writer for The New Yorker, examined the evidence into whether intense workouts are linked to risk of heart attack and stroke. She notes that one of the biggest truisms in finding a healthy active lifestyle is that too much of anything can ultimately backfire and that some scientists believe moderate exercise is the best approach.
“Moderate” doesn;t exactly fit in with the CrossFit mentality.
Kent Sepkowitz writes at the Daily Beast, that one challenge, which 60 Minutes didn’t mention during their plug, is a condition called rhabdomyolysis. It involves muscle fibers being pushed to the point that they break down, enter the bloodstream and lead to life-threatening kidney damage. There have been a number of anecdotal examples tied to CrossFit.
CrossFit disputes that they have acknowledged the danger, with a bloody “Uncle Rhabdo” cartoon clown designed to warn athletes from pushing themselves too hard - an unusual tactic to address a serious safety risk.
Ultimately, at the end of the day - the path you choose for your fitness journey, is entirely your own. But before you jump on the trendy-fitness-bandwagon, educate yourself, take care of yourself and listen your body.