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CrossFit Training? Keep Safety Top of Mind

Posted by Oliver Wu, M.D. on May 31, 2017, 8:23:00 AM

Clean and jerk, box jumps, snatch and grab, burpees, mountain climbers and sumo kettle bell lifts might sound foreign to some, but to others they’re CrossFit terms associated with getting healthy, feeling better and working hard. CrossFit has become a fast-growing exercise program over the last few years, and if you’re thinking about joining a CrossFit gym or entering into a CrossFit exercise routine, there are some things you might want to consider first. 

Poor Form

The workout of the day (WOD) in CrossFit often asks participants to perform as many reps as they can of a specific exercise in a set time frame. While this in and of itself isn’t bad for you if you’re paying attention to your form, many people stop paying attention to fundamentals in an attempt to break their own repetition record. Many of these exercises involve lunging, picking up a weight bar from the ground, jumping or swinging things like kettle bells and medicine balls. Doing a clean and jerk (lifting a weight bar off the ground to your chest and then lifting it straight above your head) isn’t necessarily dangerous, but when you’re trying to beat your own record of repetitions, you can forget to keep your knees over your ankles, lift from your back, tuck your tailbone and not jerk your arms. Poor form can lead to injury.

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Overexertion Can Cause Kidney Trouble

If you’ve worked out to the point of exhaustion and dehydration, there is a chance that the byproduct of muscle fibers can be released into the blood stream, clogging up your kidneys and preventing them from doing their job. This is called rhabdomyolysis. 

Rhabdomyolysis prevents your kidneys from clearing the toxins from your body, which in turn essentially poisons you. It can cause kidney failure and electrolyte imbalances that negatively affect your heart. To clarify, CrossFit is not a direct cause of rhabdomyolysis – overexertion is the direct cause, and this can happen to anyone who uses an inappropriate amount of intensity when they work out. The issue is that CrossFit encourages participants to work as hard as they can very quickly, which means an increase in intensity that could be dangerous if it isn’t monitored. 

Everything in Moderation

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The bottom line is that any workout can be dangerous if done improperly or without instruction or supervision by a professional who understands the fundamentals of the human body. CrossFit, by its nature, has more potential for poorer form and overexertion than other workouts. If you go into a CrossFit workout with your health and safety in mind, you should be fine. Here are some things to keep in mind during your WOD: 

  • Talk to your doctor before starting any workout routine.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Make sure you have good foundation of strength and flexibility before attempting CrossFit.
  • Do not do more than your body is capable of.
  • If you start off lifting something that is too heavy, scale it down immediately.
  • Eat healthy.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask – you need to make sure you’re not doing something that will damage your body.
  • Keep good lifting, stretching and jumping fundamentals in mind – 10 reps of something done in proper form is going to do much more good than 20 reps done improperly. 

Again, if you have any questions about your limitations, ask your physician, and if something seems off about a workout to you, don’t do it. Ask questions and make sure you are doing it correctly before performing the exercise.


Dr. Oliver Wu is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Clear Lake Clinic. His clinical interests include adult medicine, preventive care, men’s health, diabetes and hypertension. One of his hobbies is staying active at the gym.


Topics: is crossfit safe?, crossfit safety

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