“Rhabdo” Reality Check

Anti-CrossFit articles are nothing new. Lately there have been several articles in the media about rhabdomyolysis. First there was CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret and most recently Working Out ‘Til You’re Sick, featured on the Global News program 16X9. These articles imply that this condition is happening in every CrossFit gym across the world. It isn’t. What is most frustrating about these kinds of articles isn’t their bias against CrossFit; it’s the blatant misinformation.

First, let’s address what rhabdomyolysis is. This is the breakdown of muscle fibers leading to the release of these muscle fibers (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. Myoglobin in the bloodstream can cause kidney damage. Any skeletal muscle injury can lead to rhabdomyolysis. Your chance of getting rhabdomyolysis from exercise is rare. In fact you are more likely to get it from a crushing injury like those typical of automobile accidents. Alcoholics, cocaine and heroin users are at greater risk for developing rhabodomyolysis as are those on statin drugs. If you suffer from heatstroke or deep venous thrombosis you are also at greater risk.

Second, if extreme exercise leads to rhabdomyolysis as frequently as implied in these articles then every elite athlete is doomed. In this case rhabdomyolysis would be Ironman Triathlon’s dirty little secret and marathon running’s dirty little secret and Olympic level rowing’s dirty little secret. Get the IV ready if you’re a weekend warrior because you are screwed.

Finally, bad coaching isn’t the exclusive domain of CrossFit. There are bad track coaches, personal trainers and even bad yoga and Zumba instructors. The onus for injury prevention lies with both the trainer and trainee. Trainers must follow a safe, planned progression that is individual to the athlete. They must be tuned in to the athlete and the signs of over-training. Trainees must speak up if they have an injury or medical condition.

There will always be CrossFit naysayers and that’s fine. It’s time to end the vitriol and stick to the facts. Fear-mongering and contorting facts do nothing to help the overweight, diabetic mother of three who wants to improve her health whether it’s through CrossFit, running or Zumba.


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