Setting The Record Straight

By now, many of you have seen or heard from someone about the article posted on Medium, “CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret.”

Before I go any further, I am going to provide a quick disclaimer. This is coming from a gym owner whose livelihood is running a successful strength and conditioning program that uses CrossFit’s methodology. Am I biased? Probably. Do I have a better understanding of the risks and prevalence of rhabdomyolysis than Mr. Robertson, the author of the Medium article? Absolutely.

What’s important about writing some sort of response is that the article is not just an attack on CrossFit. It is an attack on every amazing coach out there that runs a successful and high quality gym. It is an attack on every member that has had their life changed for the better by a fitness program that is about so much more than a workout.

Do I need to stand up and defend CrossFit? No, the sheer success of the program and the continued growth of the brand proves its efficacy. This write-up stems from a desire to fight back against an article filled with broad generalities, out of context quotes, and anecdotal evidence.

Even though I contemplated it, I am not going to spend my time providing counter points to every ridiculous statement in the article. I like to use my valuable time on other things, like writing “Rhabdo” free programming and sending funny texts in group chats with friends from the gym.

Instead, I am going to provide some insight on risk analysis.

There are an average of 35,000 deaths from car accidents each year. An individual’s lifetime risk of dying in a motor vehicle is about 1 in 100. Assuming an individual occasionally texts and drives, the risk for an accident is increased by 20 times. Let’s now compare that to the annual incidence of rhabdomyolysis. A whopping .06% of patients. Also remember, this is total incidence. The most common patients that develop rhabdo are already sick with another illness such as cancer. Out of all rhabdomyolysis cases the mortality rate is less than 5%.

Point being? Everyone takes risks on a daily basis. We all knowingly enter a vehicle daily because of the convenience it offers. This author is literally telling you to avoid CrossFit because there is a very, very, insanely miniscule chance you might get a non-life threatening illness. Please note, I am not brushing this off as a silly illness. It is a very scary thing, and every trainer should take it seriously and know how to safely train his or her athletes. This illness is also completely avoidable. Step 1, do some research on the gyms in the area. Step 2, take responsibility for your own actions. There is absolutely no reason to go 110% at a workout during your first day, and no coach would ever force that upon you. If you’re wavering on trying CrossFit because of an article you read about it killing you, you should contemplate the fact that you are highly more likely to die on the way to said gym than find one with a coach that forces you to do 500 burpees, for example.

With risk usually comes some reward. It’s risky driving with so many people distracted on their phones, but we do it to get places faster. With any fitness program or sport there are risks involved. There are risks involved with CrossFit, but the upside far outweighs them. For instance, how about reducing the risk of cancer? Because you have a 1:7 lifetime risk of dying from cancer. Or maybe reducing the risk of heart disease? Because you have a 1:5 chance of dying from that. You could even lower your chance of dying from the flu, because at most CrossFit gyms we educate people on proper nutrition which increases your immune function. The lifetime risk of dying from the flu? 1:64. Then there are my personal favorites. Reducing the risk of being lazy, unmotivated, depressed, overweight, unhealthy, weak, self-conscious, or missing out on what CrossFit is truly about. We are a community of individuals seeking self improvement.

I really do feel genuinely sorry for every person that reads Mr. Robertson’s article and uses it as another excuse to avoid getting healthy. I feel sorry for every person that will miss out on the opportunity to feel what it is like to have a healthy functioning body. I know how hard it is to make that first step. I know how sensationalism and fear mongering can affect a person’s opinion. But guess what? We each have a miraculous brain, and we can all make informed decisions on our own. Come check us out. Come talk to our coaches and our members. Come experience our community. It won’t take long to realize just how wrong Mr. Roberston is.

- Eric Rosenstock, Head Coach and Owner of CrossFit Deep.

35 Comments

  1. Nick Birdsall09/26/2013

    Thank you for writing this.

  2. Crystal Sweeney09/26/2013

    Thank you!!! Well said

  3. Kim dunlap09/26/2013

    Thank you for the info. Hope you don’t mind if I share it with my box.

  4. Kristen09/26/2013

    Thank you!! Well written! I will also be sharing this with my box :)

  5. Lindsey09/26/2013

    Yeah, I quit reading his {Robertson’s} article halfway through. As a physical therapist, workout enthusiast, & cross fit-goer I thought it was ridiculous. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Debbie Critz09/26/2013

    Well said I’m a nurse and appreciate your knowledge and professional response!!! More people need to take control of their health. Bless all of you trainers and coaches who spend your time trying to make a persons quality of life and health better!!!!

  7. Marietta Roberts09/26/2013

    Thank you for a well written, well presented overview of what Crossfit it and does for all who take that first step and get to a Box. I would like to see you approach Good Mornng America for equal time following today’s too short, inconclusive, unsubstantiated scare mongering segment concluding with an MD who said basically that CF is not a healthy program.

    • I would love and welcome that opportunity. Unfortunately our media thrives on controversy to attract viewers.

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  10. Kathy09/26/2013

    I started CrossFit two and a half years ago at 43 years old I’ve never looked better or felt better in my life! I have accomplished things physically that I could have never imagined possible. I am an athlete for the first time in my life thanks to great coaching at a great box! I am very grateful for myCrossfit family/community.

    • I will never ever get tired of hearing stories like this. Keep it up!

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  14. A.J.09/27/2013

    If you live your life always worried about getting killed, are you really living?
    Very good points in this article. Listen to your body, have good coaches, and enjoy it

  15. Trevor09/27/2013

    Why would I take the chance and do crossfit, when there are many other ways to get into great shape and actually see the results in the mirror? I know many people who do crossfit, and well, they don’t look nearly as fit as me. I have tried it and I see it as an over-priced scheme.

    • There are many ways to get fit, definitely not saying CrossFit is the only way. I say stick with your program if it works for you. We all have different goals and definitions of what being fit is. If your program accomplishes your goals then that’s awesome.

      Aesthetics rarely tell you the whole story of an individual’s health so I would be wary of forming opinions off of that alone. Like I said, definitions of being fit vary. I have regularly seen people that don’t have 8% body fat and ripped muscles out perform those that do. I’ve also reviewed bloodwork from people that look extremely fit who are actually far from it.

      You should always get what you pay for. If a CrossFit or any gym for that matter charges you more than what you are getting from it, then yes, by definition the service is overpriced.

      There are risks with any training program. A quick look at the bodybuilding.com forums is a perfect example. I can find someone asking for advice for every injury under the sun there and the majority follow something different than CrossFit. I would argue most of the injuries those people sustain are due to lacking supervision and an educated coach.

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  17. Justin09/27/2013

    This is one of the most sincere and articulate responses to the “CrossFit’s dirty little secret” article…

    Other responses I’ve seen are defensive and arrogant. You sir, nailed it.

  18. Thanks for taking the time to educate. So appreciate it.

    A satisfied Xfit member
    Cross Fit 9, FL
    Cross Fit Brevard, NC

  19. Brandon09/27/2013

    Eric,
    Very well written sir. Could not have said it better myself. +1 on the group texts by the way. Now it’s back to coaching my over-charged members…
    Keep up the great work!

  20. Gary Josephsen09/27/2013

    As an emergency physician I treat rhabdomyolysis. We see true rhabdo relatively rarely, but when we do it usually involves either elderly patients “found down” after falling and laying several days on the ground. Also we see it in mentally ill patients during a manic episode, methamphetamine addicts during a binge, or victims of severe crush/burn injury. There total CPK levels are usually over 100,000.

    Although high levels can interfere with the kidneys filtration the most common denominator for damage is inability to hydrate. Therefore, we hydrate these patients (with IV fluid) aggressively, and most of them recover. The one who have real problems are usually those with kidney disease who then get rhabdo.

    What does this have to do with crossfit? Not a lot. But if a person participates in vigorous exercise and does not hydrate, then they will suffer. Measuring their CPK levels will show elevated levels from muscle damage. Hydration will clear their blood. Then they will grow muscle and have increased work tolerance.

    The arm swelling thing? Crossfit butterfly pull-ups allow an athlete to kip up to mid arm bend then complete the pull-up with (among other muscles) the brachialis muscle just above the inside of the elbow. This muscle is the butterfly workhorse but it isn’t highly developed in most people (before CF). Now, I’m an average athlete – but I routinely do over 100 pull-ups in workouts with a butterfly kip. The first time I did this my brachialis was significantly taxed. The swelling made my arms hurt, contract, and it took some time to recover. But hydration will clear the CPK (and other metabolites) from the blood. The muscles heal and we get stronger, faster, and better at the new movements.

    Eric is 100% right. The author of the “dirty little secret” article lacks clinical experience with rhabdomyolysis and doesn’t really know what he is talking about.

    p.s. my name’s not Travis

  21. Thanks for posting this Eric! I’ll be re-posting. Great work brother!

  22. Mary09/27/2013

    The most important line in your response was “writing Rhabdo free programing”. My experience with a personal trainer who had gone from traditional training (NASM) to CrossFit was that the workout was the WOD posted on the internet, and she no longer cared about my form or creating a workout for me, just my completion time. After going to PT for a knee injury I left her gym.

    Personal trainers should be like physicians – “First, do no harm”.

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  25. Beckie Cormey10/01/2013

    You totally mathed that guy in the face!

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  28. Draxter10/25/2013

    There seems to be a false dichotomy being presented here between ‘healthy’ CrossFitters and the ‘unhealthy’ general population. My question is, do most of us need to push ourselves to the absolute limit physically? Of course not. It’s possible to achieve a moderate level of fitness without punishing oneself unduly. And for most of us, a moderate level of fitness is all we’ll ever need. Yes, professional athletes need to push themselves to the limit and beyond. But most of us are not professional athletes and we simply don’t need that level of fitness. It certainly isn’t necessary to push oneself to the limit just to be healthy. And that’s the problem I’m seeing with these ‘extreme’ exercise programmes, the notion that one must regularly train to the point of utter exhaustion just to be ‘healthy’ and avoid being a ‘couch potato’. Nonsense.

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