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Extreme Exercise: CrossFit Pushes the Body, Sometimes With Dangerous Results

June 17, 2009 03:08 PM
by Liz Colville
This is not the first time that exercise professionals have come under fire for working their clients to the point of exhaustion—or worse.

Pushing It to the Limit With CrossFit

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CrossFit, devised by a fitness coach named Greg Glassman in 2001, is “a prescription, of sorts, for super athleticism,” reports The Seattle Times. Through crossfit.com, Glassman posts a daily workout that attracts thousands of people who gather outdoors or in CrossFit gyms around the country to push themselves to the limits of physical endurance.

The Washington Post describes CrossFit as “timed, high-intensity strength training with little or no rest or water between sets” that is “done competitively.” Workouts involve a mix of aerobic and strength activities, such as tire-flipping, sprints and pull-ups. Though most participants appear to find the workouts “fun,” Glassman readily admits that his workouts “can kill you,” as he told The New York Times in 2005.

Brian Anderson spent time in a hospital after a CrossFit workout. Anderson, who works on the SWAT team at the Tacoma, Wash., sheriff’s office, “left the gym with his muscles sapped and back pain so excruciating that he had to lie in the driveway to collect himself,” The Times reported. He was 38 years old at the time.

“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,” according to The Times. “He spent six days in intensive care.” But he returned to CrossFit a few months later.

Others have also been injured from the workouts, and Glassman confirmed to The Seattle Times that he knows of “at least six cases of exercise-induced Rhabdomyolysis.”

Reactions: Knowing personal limits is key

Fabio Comana, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, said the problem is in CrossFit’s standardized, “cookie-cutter” approach: There is one workout for everyone, he explained to The New York Times.

Brian A. Scotti is an attorney who represented a gym that was sued by a man who suffered rhabdomyolysis as a result of CrossFit workouts. Scotti told The Washington Post that the case was about “personal accountability. Did he stop? No. He made a conscious decision to keep going.”

Glassman told The Seattle Times that a person could “[l]ift a broomstick” instead of a barbell; unfortunately, not everyone knows their own limits.

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Background: Man sued CrossFit for causing health problems

In 2008, a former Navy technician sued Ruthless Training Concepts, a CrossFit-affiliated gym, and was awarded $300,000, according to The Seattle Times. The Virginia man, Makimba Mimms, was participating in a workout on his quads that caused him to urinate blood and his legs to swell, The Washington Post reported during the case. He “was hospitalized for about a week, and his ability to stand for long periods, run and play sports is now limited,” according to his attorneys.

Mimms was overseen during the workout, but not by a certified trainer, The Post adds. He was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis following the workout. While the case was going on, a CrossFit gym at the Quantico Marine base was encouraged to “review their practices” even though it was not connected with the case. It deemed its workouts suitable because “the instructors work mostly with Marines, who are already in great shape,” according to The Washington Post.

Related Topic: When workouts go too far

In 1999, the family of Anne Marie Capati, a 37-year-old woman who died of a stroke during a trainer-supervised workout, sued the gym, Crunch Fitness, and the trainer, August Casseus, The New York Times reported. Capati was taking a drug for hypertension and was instructed to take nutritional supplements by Casseus.

One supplement “included an over-the-counter drug containing ephedra,” which contains ephedrine and is “often used for weight control and has been linked to more than three dozen deaths,” The New York Times reported. “It is not supposed to be used by people with high blood pressure.”
Against gym rules, the trainer told his client “to supplement her exercise and diet program with five drugs and accompanied her to a Vitamin Shoppe store to buy them,” according to The New York Times. Vitamin Shoppe and the supplement manufacturers were also named in the case. Capati’s family also “alleged that the trainer was not certified and had not even finished a correspondence course on fitness training,” the BBC reported in 2002.

Around that time, college football coaches were also under the spotlight as several cases of student deaths from heatstroke during football workouts were reported by sources including The New York Times.

“'For a number of years, there were no deaths at all,'' Dr. Fred Mueller of the University of North Carolina sports medicine department told The Times in 2001, “but in the last seven years they've begun to creep back up again.” Mueller emphasized the importance of stopping for water breaks, preferably in the shade, and weighing players after workouts. Other useful tips to prevent heatstroke are mentioned on the site MomsTeam, for parents with athletic children.

Reference: Fitness Web Guide

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