Crossfit Outrage & Rhabdomyolysis

Crossfit Basel

Crossfit Basel

A few short days ago, Eric Robertson, a Professor of Physical Therapy at Regis University, posted a short blog post entitled “Crossfit’s Dirty Little Secret” to Medium.com, discussing his observations about the prevalence of a condition known as Rhabdomyolisis in CrossFit, and the unusual awareness amongst CrossFit coaches and enthusiasts about this typically very rare condition. If you read the post (I strongly encourage you to) you’ll notice that it’s actually quite reasonable and balanced, even if it does give CrossFit a slightly unpleasant taste.

The Prediction Causes a Stir
Prof Robertson makes it fairly clear that his thoughts are all observations and anecdotal, provides quotes and sources from CrossFit articles and ex-CrossFit athletes, and even clearly outlines his ‘prediction’:

“My prediction: in a few years, the peer-reviewed scientific literature will be ripe with articles about CrossFit and Rhabdomyolysis. “

It should be clear from this that Prof Robertson’s position is that of a ‘pre-scientific’, hypothetical, “Let’s investigate this” type of approach. This is where all scientific research begins, with an anecdotal observation of an area which might yield some fruitful results for discovery or confirmation of a significant correlation or causal relationship between two variables.

every dog has its snarl

You say something bad about CrossFit?

CrossFit’ers Respond with Outrage
The CrossFit community has responded to Prof Robertson’s hypothesis with a rabies slathering outrage. Huffington Post, meanwhile, continues to demonstrate it’s inability of both it’s contributors and commentors to think at all critically, instead appearing to string together clever looking sentences which are in fact mostly devoid of real knowledge, thought or insight, and continue creating straw-men out of **Prof Robertson’s easily comprehendible blog post while refusing to understand the spirit in which it’s delivered.

Huffington Post
*Huffungton post had these choice quotes in their repertoire of banal verbosity:

“The authors of these pieces always have some kind of personal problem with people who do CrossFit, but the core of it is a mystery.”

There is no “personal problem” that can be reasonably surmised from Prof. Robertson’s post except for a rather reasonable and level-headed analysis of some anecdotal evidence and observations of a trend that deserves further scientific investigation. This is a perfect example of an implicit ad hominem, an attempt to attack his character instead of the issues themselves by implying that he has an alterior motive. If you want to see “some kind of personal problems” then just read the comments in Prof Robertson’s article and the comments in the Huffington post.

Injured Yourself Exercising? It’s Your Fault!
At least, this is the view of many of the CrossFit-cult-like-worshippers who are rabidly coming to the defense of their preferred exercise modality. To quote Huffington Post:

“Rhabdomyolysis — an extreme condition thwarted upon oneself — is not the fault of CrossFit. It’s not the sport, the organization or even the coaches. It’s your own fault.”

And this:

“Folks will say CrossFit causes injury and is irresponsible. Newsflash: CrossFit does not cause injury — individuals do things that cause themselves injury. This is what it comes down to: personal responsibility”

Does this sound familiar to anybody? Let me prompt your memory “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people“. That’s right, that tired old United States of A. sound byte used to defend gun ownership, regardless the number of school massacres that take place.

In fact I’m pleased to hear that if clients injure themselves under my supervision, as a personal trainer or an exercise physiologist, then I am not responsible and I can just trot out the ol’ “Well you’re personally responsible for your own health, you injured yourself haha!”, though it goes against everything I’ve learnt about burden of care and kinda nullifies having private insurance, Advanced First Aid + CPR, and registration with Fitness Australia (the national registration body which provides practice guidelines and policies for the fitness industry in Australia).

You want to talk about taking personal responsibility? Coaches, personal trainers and fitness specialists of all calibres have a burden of care to ensure a safe environment and safe exercise delivery. If the culture fosters an unusually high rate of injury, then it could be argued that they’re not fulfilling that burden of care.

In Summary
The CrossFit defenders have done themselves more harm than good with their level of outrage to Prof Robertson’s post. A nail has obviously been hit firmly on the head, and I look forward to any future research into rhabdomyolysis and it’s prevalence in the cult-like-attitudes of many CrossFit enthusiasts.
While my response here is clearly denegrating to CrossFit, I want it to be clear that I’m addressing those rabid and overly emotional followers, not those who are able to string together comprehensible thoughts and sentences without foaming at the mouth.

Keep it sane, keep it reasonable, and be skeptical.

What are your thoughts? Do the benefits for Crossfit outweigh the drawbacks? And was Prof Robertson’s blog post blown way out of proportion? Share your thoughts in the comments!

*I don’t see it as important to use the name of the person in particular who posted the article, as she has no actual qualifications in the field. This doesn’t necessarily detract from any valid points she makes, if she had made any, but I believe it is relevant to note for the discussion.

**Unlike the CrossFit worshippers, I’ll give Prof Robertson the respect he deserves by using his actual name and title instead of attempting to put us all on the same even surface by glossing over his credentials and credibility on the topic. Let’s get one thing straight – you should be listening to somebody with pHD in physical therapy with a lot more interest than some ‘random’ over at an online news site when the credentials place them as a specialist, if not an expert, in the field.

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3 thoughts on “Crossfit Outrage & Rhabdomyolysis

    • I assume you’re referring to my paragraph on those who attempt to absolve personal trainers of all responsibility – and I obviously couldn’t agree more. With that said, the risk of rhabdo is obviously occurring, anecdotally, at a much higher rate in Crossfit than other areas of training or athletics.

  1. Pingback: Recommended Reading: 10/17/2013 | Performance DPT

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