Over the past week, several dozen friends and colleagues have asked about my thoughts on “CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret”, a Medium article by Eric Roberston (later republished on HuffPo) about the dangers of rhabdomyolysis in CrossFit.
In short, rhabdo is actually the exact opposite of a ‘dirty little secret’ in CrossFit. Even though it’s a remote possibility, it is a possibility, so CrossFit at a national level, and we at CrossFit NYC, emphasize prevention in all aspects of training and coach certification. More broadly, we (like any responsible gym) cater our beginner classes in every way possible to reduce the chance of injury of any kind, whether it’s a pulled muscle, rhabdo, or even a heart attack.
I also believe the HuffPo article is a bit lacking on broader medical perspective. Rhabdo exists on a spectrum, from minor to serious. And while there have been incidents of rhabdo in the CrossFit world, it is actually much more prevalent and severe in many other workout settings. For example, one study of early stage military recruits (Olerud, et al., “Incidence of acute exertional rhabdomyolysis”) showed that more than 40% have evidence of rhabdo. Another (‘Myoglobinaemia and Endurance Exercise”, American Journal of Sports Medicine) showed that more than half of the finishers of a medium length triathlon had rhabdo, too.
Ironically, it looks like CrossFit’s attempt to educate about and prevent the problem is exactly what got us in trouble. As Robertson points out, “the coach was unusually familiar with what is normally a very rarely seen disorder.” I don’t find it unusual at all that his coach was prepared for even an unlikely problem; I just think that’s what it means to be a professional.