It is just over a month into the new year and many of you are still going strong on your resolutions to get fit. But could a certain kind of workout actually be a health hazard?
For the people who work out at CrossFit gyms in our area, it is only a matter of time before they get to that next level of fitness.
Arick Sears says, "It's painful. Yes. No pain. No gain."
Sears along with other members are hoping this high-intensity strength and conditioning program known as CrossFit will get them there.
The training includes Olympic lifts and uses non-traditional equipment.
"You're going to get a good workout,” says Adam Smith, another CrossFit member.
The CrossFit craze has spread like wildfire with thousands of gyms worldwide. But the number of people involved in CrossFit training isn't the only thing that's growing.
Criticisms about the effects the strenuous workouts can have on your body are growing too.
A YouTube video shows Kevin Ogar at the OC Throwdown competition held last month in California.
The internet is full of personal stories of injuries and worse. One person says he "threw up after every workout for the first month." And his body felt "like a bag of marshmallows."
Another woman says after doing a triceps-targeted workout, her arms "felt like jello" and she couldn't "bend her elbows."
Stories like these have become so connected to the CrossFit workout a clown, named Uncle Rhabdo, short for rhabdomyolysis , has been created.
And there is nothing funny about this condition. In extreme cases rhabdomyolysis can cause muscle cells to explode and die.
"With rhabdomyolysis, when you get cell death, and we are talking about cells on the skeletal muscle, the problem is that everything on the inside of the cell gets released into the body and into the blood,” says Dr. Evan Argintar, an orthopedic surgeon at Medstar Washington Hospital Center.
Argintar says a protein called myoglobin becomes toxic when it is released, throwing your kidneys into overdrive and eventually causing them to fail.
"CrossFit itself is a very intense workout,” says Alison Bukowski, a coach at CrossFit Bethesda. “There's no getting around that. There's no way to sugarcoat it. You're here to work your butt off."
She says her decision to continue to work her already fatigued muscles caused her to suffer a milder case of rhabdo.
She remembers, "It wasn't to the point where my kidneys were just shutting down, but I had to stop working out. Everything, forearms were just so swollen that I could barely bend my arms."
She says it was a scary lesson to learn, but it helps her be a better coach to members who want to lay it all on the line.
"I don't want to be responsible for anybody hurting themselves. It's not worth it," she says.
Sears, a member at CrossFit DC says he has heard lots of negative buzz about CrossFit culture.
"Some people refer to folks who do CrossFit as crazy and some people even call it a cult," he says.
Sears agrees there are coaches that may have that no pain, no gain at all cost mentality, but it's really in your hands.
"I would say you need to know your own body,” he says. “And the good thing about this box is whatever the exercise is, they always present different scaling options.”
Dr. Arginatar says that is good advice and may explain why the hype about the hazards outweighs the number of rhabdo cases reported.
"Luckily, moderate to severe rhabdo occurs uncommonly, even in the setting of CrossFit," Arginatar says.
We contacted CrossFit's corporate office to get their reaction to claims that the workouts are dangerous and they provided us with this statement:
"We emphasize prevention in all aspects of training and coach certification. Beginner classes are tailored 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."