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Does CrossFit really cause Rhabdo?


Posted by Cags R under General on 17 October 2013 at 11:00 PM

Rhabdomyolysis or "Rhabdo" is a condition caused by extreme overtraining where damaged skeletal muscle tissue breaks down and can lead to high levels of toxins in the blood which can cause kidney damage.

Recent articles on Rhadbo and it's connection to CrossFit have raised huge debate across the internet (with responses such as: CrossFit Doesn't Have a Dirty Little Secret -- You're Just Irresponsible) and even here on Tribesports, about who's responsibility is it to see the signs of overtraining? 

First off - we should start this with a basic statement: Tribesports does not believe that CrossFit is responsible for Rhabdomyolysis.

Uncle RhabdoBut, and it's a big but, they don't do themselves many favors with their educational mascot Uncle Rhabdo!

For those of you who don't know about the CrossFit method of training, it's a combination of high intensity interval training, strength & conditioning methods, body weight exercises and - their secret ingredient - consistantly changing which combination of these exercises you'll be taking on each session. There is a strong focus on max reps, AMRAP and max effort within workouts, but if you notice, all of these measurements are relative to the trainee's ability - there's no prescribed one-size-fits-all workout.

So, using individuals 'max reps' means that they must be able to identify when they're working to their maximum effort. Who should be responsible for when this max effort is misjudged?

"I think the individual is responsible for his or her own actions. You have to know your own body and what you can and can not do. I have never done the crossfit but I have done Insanity. I know personally that I have pushed to the point of feeling like I was going to puke but I had the good sense to back off. I know there are obsessive people out there that will push too far and pay the price.

It is not irresponsible to think that each one of us has a responsilbiity for our own health. If you take personal responsiblity out of the equation then you have a nanny mind set. I am responsible for me, no one else. Sheila B

Many trainees, both experienced and beginners, can suffer from overtraining. The negative effects are experienced more when dehydrated and when you've not been taking appropriate rest and recovery time when training.

Earlier this year, the Tribesports office went down to CrossFit Hackney to try it out - so we thought we'd find out what the Strength & Conditioning coaches there had to say about the recent uproar:

CrossFit Hackney gymbox"We often talk to our members about overtraining as we are very concise of the number of sessions they do each week.  We know all of our members by name and we talk to all of them about rest, recovery nutrition and exercise...

Rhabdomyolysis is not simply a matter of overtraining. Recently an article titled "CrossFits dirty little secret" caused a huge fuss in the media about CrossFit.  It made rhabdomyolysis sound like a disease you could catch by doing a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) without protection.  This article was not an attack on CrossFit, it was an attack on all the awesome CrossFit box owner and coach who actually give a damn about their programming and their members.

To be honest not a single member in our gym even asked about the rabdo topic.  I guessing they have never heard of our members suffering from rhabdomyolysis and didn't really get the point of this article."

There's a great article on recognising the signs of overtraining in the CrossFit Hackney blog.

Is CrossFit unfairly handed blame because it is a) hugely popular, b) different from 'conventional' training methods, c) frequently picked on anyway, or d) all of the above?!

As an affiliate organisation, there can be inconsistencies from gym to gym, and - like in any sport - some coaches will be better than others. CrossFit doesn't need us to defend it (in fact, it does a pretty fun-to-watch "we-really-don't-care-about-your-opinion" brand of PR) but this article is here to clear up a few things:

  • Some CrossFit members have experienced Rhabdo when training.
  • There have been cases where High School Football teams have suffered from Rhabdo.
  • Marathon runners, rugby player, soccer players - even prisoners in the weights yard - have all had recorded cases of Rhabdo.

Rhabdo is a result of overtraining. No matter your sport. So, before you tar all CrossFit gyms with the same brush, consider this: at what point does personal responsibility leave the athlete and get passed on to anyone else?

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Someone very close to me finished up in hospital from the pressures of training for pre season for AFL (Australian Football league). He was very young, 19, I believe very fit, but in hindsight did not listen to his body, did not prepare properly before the training session in question. He was running a timed course, I am not sure now how long it was, say for example it was 5k, and the pressure was there to finish in the top 10. It was a hot summer's day, and he did not hydrate sufficiently before the run. He was leading the pack when he collapsed, became delirious and was rushed to hospital in a serious state, and was in hospital for a number of days. Now, was it the coaching staff's responsibility to ensure he was properly hydrated, should they have cancelled that type of running competition on a hot day, or was it up to him, his personal responsibility? It was a frightening experience for everyone, and he actually gave away playing football at that level.


    It is down to the individual to be responsible for their safety regardless of what type of exercise/fitness regime you practice. Even Yoga has had some bad press (Yoga can kill you) and to my mind it is the least dangerous of all forms of exercise as it should teach awareness which would then carry over into whatever you do.

    Jane H encouraged this.


    Rhabdo is a really extreme end of over training or muscle damage, and if you hit that level of damage you are just being silly. as some days that you will suffer from DOMS, but when you build a training program you know that that you cant do max effort every day, 3-2 times a day. so if you are stupid enough to not realise the damage you are doing that, sounds like a you problem. but this should not push your self to the limit, and its going to hurt, but if you then give your body the rest required or you get no gains

    encouraged this.

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