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Over the last several years CrossFit, a branded fitness regime, has become a popular sport. But are there precautions you should take before joining?
Like Jazzercise or Zumba, CrossFit is a licensed fitness program that is based on a specific training model — in this case, high-intensity weight lifting and endurance training. Practitioners compete in various events, including annual CrossFit Games. Owner-coaches must pass four levels of certification before they can open an affiliate gym; however, not all gyms require their staff-coaches to go through the full certification process, if any at all. Therein lies the potential risk to participants.
Without a doubt, weight and endurance training have many benefits and can be injury-free when performed with correct form and appropriate intensity levels. But if you are new to CrossFit, you should be especially aware of the role your coach plays in your training. Having an underqualified coach can result in improper form and overexertion, which can then lead to serious injuries.
Joint, tendon, ligament, and muscle pain are common among my patients who are not trained in proper form. They are sometimes encouraged to “push through the pain” and not take appropriate rest periods. This poor advice can lead to knee, hip, and shoulder injuries, especially when too much weight, relative to the individual’s abilities, is applied.
Although uncommon, the breakdown of muscle tissue, or exertional rhabdomyolysis (ER), has been associated with some CrossFit competitions. This is a very serious condition that can result in kidney failure and death if untreated. ER can result from a combination of overexertion and dehydration, especially in athletes with improper conditioning. Furthermore, the risk of ER is increased during highly competitive, event-driven sports in which participants often experience considerable fatigue under conditions of high temperatures and humidity.
Extensive experience in CrossFit and thorough certification is essential (knowledge of biomechanics and kinesiology is a plus) when choosing a gym and coach, so do your research. Request proof of background and certification from the coach you’re interviewing at the initial consultation. If he or she can’t provide that, request another coach or move on to another gym. There are dozens and dozens of CrossFit locations in central Indiana alone.
Make sure you’re well-trained before participating in any competitive event. Stay well-hydrated throughout. Know your body’s limits and when to stop. All of these lessons are difficult to learn without proper training from an experienced coach.
And finally, remember that if your coach doesn’t know what he or she is doing, you’re not going to, either. If you learn proper form, and your coach guides you in developing an appropriate training program, you should be able to reap the benefits of CrossFit without getting injured.
Conan Chittick, MD, CAQSM, specializes in sports medicine. He is a guest columnist and located at IU Health Physicians Family Medicine, 1375 N. Green Street, Suite 100, in Brownsburg. He can be reached by calling the office at 317.852.2251.