Is CrossFit Really “Killing Us”? – A Response

by TJ Murphy

Like you, I’ve been told more than once to not “Drink the Kool-Aid” when it comes to CrossFit. Honestly, I’d be happy to speak about CrossFit only when asked directly, and otherwise shut up about it.

But then another news story depicting CrossFit as some eerily destructive cult— usually hinting at satanic imagery of dank basements equipped with medieval torture machinery, the haunting sounds of human pain accompanied by green vomit and flowing blood — seeps into view. Like the story in the December issue of Outside Magazine, one tethered to the eye-catching blurb on the cover: IS CROSSFIT DESTROYING THE WORLD? The story starts off suggesting that there’s a global backlash against the exercise format.

But the story in Outside, in the last paragraphs anyway, makes the case that if you compared CrossFit to other sports, it’s not that big of a deal. The point being that most sports have an injury risk to them. Football, of course, but even the rolling of a bowling ball is not perfectly safe.

Still, the headline IS CROSSFIT DESTROYING THE WORLD? will be enough for some to leave the book closed on their view of CrossFit. I know that I will be at a Super Bowl party this year and can predict right now that at least one person will come up to me and ask me about CrossFit, about how they’d like to join but they’re afraid it’s a sure ticket to the emergency room.

And I usually start off my answer with why I get get so annoyed when another ABC News story comes out about the risks of the “military-style exercise program” that is CrossFit.

I’ll ask, “Have you been in a Walgreens recently? Next time you are, notice that a new “Diabetes” section of the store, a display featuring insulin injectors, lancets, monitors, diabetic foot care and more.” In other words, at a time when there’s a new industry ramping up to make money off of the great surge of Americans with Type-2 diabetes.

Diabetes is becoming the norm
There’s little question that the soaring obesity and diabetes crisis in America is a significant data point within forecasts predicting that health care costs — as bad as they are — may double in the next 10 years.

And so there’s a growing industry capitalizing on the trend. In fact, while you’re at the Walgreens, go check the magazine rack for titles like Diabetes Living. In other words, there’s a ad base to support glossy lifestyle magazines dedicated to diabetics.

In the Outside Magazine story, the writer does not base his assertion that there is a “long list of injured participants” on survey data or research statistics. Rather, it’s founded on an anecdotal observations of a head of a chiropractic association.

Other stories positing that CrossFit is some sort of demolition derby have been produced by ABC News as well as being posted on websites like Medium.com. The thing that rattles you when you watch one of these TV news show clips is that — again, absent any hard information to prove their point — they find an MD with a tie and a lab coat, shelves stuffed with textbooks in the background, who talks about the dangers of hard exercise.

OK, so the next time you see one of these stories, it’s worth sending the writer or news organization a small array of what are known as actual numbers uncovered by Centers for Disease Control & Prevention studies:

1. 25.8 million children and adults have diabetes. 18.8 have been diagnosed and 7.0 million have diabetes but have not been diagnosed. Let’s all take note that it is no longer referred to as “adult-onset diabetes,” because it’s killing our kids now too.
2. Speaking of killers, consider this number: 79 million people in the United States are pre-diabetic.
3. How does the diabetes epidemic in America currently cost in dollars? $174 billion every year. $174 billion. This includes direct costs like hospitalization and treatment ($116 billion) and also ancillary costs like time lost from work and disability payments ($58 billion).

With those numbers in mind, consider what the National Institute of Health states as being the most effective way to treat diabetes, which is also the most effective way to prevent diabetes:

The most important way to treat and manage type 2 diabetes is activity and nutrition.
So here’s the thing: Whatever the risks might be, for example, tweaking a shoulder in such a way that you have to visit the chiropractor interviewed for the Outside Magazine article, they are ridiculously dwarfed by the risks of not eating right and not exercising.Eating right and exercising hard are the foundational messages of CrossFit, successfully being delivered within the construct of a local box that has two exceptionally powerful forces at play: the supervision of coaches and the support/peer pressure of a community.

And here’s another objection you probably hear a lot: CrossFit is too expensive.

Here’s my answer: Sure, CrossFit can be expensive. I don’t know what the average box membership is these days, but in the San Francisco Bay area, it can cost well over $200 to under $100 (Greg Amundson’s box in Santa Cruz—Amundson CrossFit).

But the fact is all the information you need to do it is on CrossFit.com. With a pull-up bar, a broomstick and a jumprope you can get started. Not just with the training but with a diet that will help you ward off hyperinsulemnia, the witch-like condition that is brewing within the 79 million Americans who are pre-diabetic.

But it’s better and more enjoyable to join a good box. Too expensive? As CrossFit grows, perhaps the market will develop lower-cost boxes. But first let’s talk about the financial costs and other costs of a Comcast Cable package. If someone is telling me they can’t afford CrossFit, but they spend $200 on cable, then let’s be clear: They want what they want and they’re going to be fat and sick. Nothing we can do.

Set your priorities!
There are all sorts of economic trades one might be able to make. I recall how CrossFit star Kristan Clever once decided that in making the choice between daily trips to a Starbucks or a CrossFit membership, the latter was a better deal.

Or for those men who giving their credit card a workout toward the dubious promise of testosterone injections. Numbers collected by IMS Health show that sales of testosterone patches, gels, pills and injections came to about $2 billon last year. To quote Dr. Brian Hickey, an exercise scientist at Florida A&M—an avid Masters duathlete, runner and CrossFitter—he has the following message to the rapidly growing demographic supporting that market:

Why don’t you just go and swing a kettlebell?

That’s right: As Dr. Hickey might explain at his next biochemistry lecture, lifting heavy things produces natural testosterone and human growth hormone that is a virtual fountain of youth for older guys. Much better deal that injections, and certainly more effective. The best and safest way to do this is join a gym, master the movements, and stop being lazy.

So is CrossFit really killing us? Of course not. Look at the numbers for diabetes again, with the knowledge that CrossFit is scalable for all ages and backgrounds, and that it would prevent and help cure Type 2 diabetes across the board. In this era of neverending debate about heath care in the United States, the CrossFit world is one of the groups that is actually doing something about it.

T.J. Murphy is author of Inside the Box, a book about CrossFit. Read more by T.J. at tjmurphy.net.

Workout 1.16.13:
Strength: Bench Press:
75% x 5 85% x 3 95% x 1+

WOD:
16 min AMRAP
1 muscle up sub 3 ring dips and 3 pull ups per MU
3 handstand push-ups
7 kettle bell swings 70/55