Thursday, September 26, 2013

CrossFit in the CrossHairs

My Body - Young the Giant (mp3)

"CrossFit is a cult." I say that a lot, with the jokey ha ha that usually accompanies comments intended to contain a grain of truth.

Well, only so many could abuse the joke, the joke could only go on so long before someone turned it into a screed, and only so long before a screed went viral. That time is now.

A physical therapist has written a blog being passed all over Facebook where "Uncle Radhbo," the cutesy mascot name for a serious and debilitating problem, is "exposed." The condition's real name is Rhabdomyolysis, and the information provided on it in the blog is valid and important.

In our predictable social media whirlwind, where you find one viral reaction, you will find a swift counter-reaction. The "Uncle Radhbo" Conspiracy/CrossFit Is Dangerous!! meme kicked into high gear this weekend, and the other side revved up by Monday to post a new link about how awesome CrossFit is. The one I'm seeing most is titled "CrossFitters Eat Their Young." It's the kind of thing meant to defend CrossFitters but accidentally makes you like them less.

All mouth-breathers must now pick a side in the digital fight over whether intense Type A exercise maniacs can be trusted to make decisions for themselves and their health.

Disclosure Time: The author is utterly out of shape and enjoys his state of being, thankyouverymuch. The author is not a CrossFit Stud, or a CrossFit Newb, nor has he ever even been inside a CrossFit facility. He does, however, know a dozen or so CrossFit-obsessed humans and mocks them regularly.

To all those who mock or too eagerly attack the CrossFit movement, I offer a quote lifted from the mouth of Al Pacino in Heat: "You can get killed walking your doggie." Those who believe CrossFit does more bad than good for its "disciples" are just being goofy.

We are in the midst of a pronounced cultural shift in our attitude and approach toward fitness that excites even me, as I sit languishing on my couch or in front of my computer screen, typing away at blog posts and calling it "mental exercise via digital exertion." After The Big '80s and The 'Roidier '90s and the LiveStrong Doping '00s, we seem to be moving away from fetishizing the superhuman and instead romanticizing what has always been possible for the fitness-obsessed human. The 70s and 80s gave us Lou Ferrigno and Schwartzenegger and an army of chemically-altered pro wrestlers whose veins coursed with unnatural substances. The 90s gave us Maguire and Bonds and Sammy, whose heads got bigger but knew enough to cover their sci-fi bulk in jerseys, a lesson the NFL learned long ago. Lance Armstrong rang in the new century by reminding us that we can't just be suspicious of hulking meatheads, but also those who display superhuman endurance or, well, superhuman anything. Because duh, if it's superhuman, it was prolly obtained in unnatural fashion (Yes, I'm looking at you, Usain Bolt...).

Lately, though, we're making room for a new breed. "American Ninja Warrior" celebrates a different physique, a well-rounded, well-conditioned body that is not overly top-heavy and does not sacrifice balance or agility for strength. And CrossFit seeks a similar goal, to build all comers into a condition that is adaptable to (almost) all situations or environments. If you are a CrossFit stud, you can swim a mean mile, climb Everest with some air left in the lungs, play an intense 90-minute soccer match or even survive a zombie apocalypse by out-running most of them and nimbly braining a few that get too close with a single swing of the bat or crowbar. And you can do it all while saying "I CRUSHED it!" way too much.

Are there risks from pushing yourself too far beyond your physical limits? Of course. Does CrossFit culture peer pressure its members into doing this in unhealthy ways? Perhaps. Are there a bajillion bigger concerns, in the world of fitness and conditioning (or the lack thereof) in our midst where our worries and energies would be better spent? Gimme 50 reps of Hell Yeah!

The attack on CrossFit is from people like me who are annoyed at how much fun these grind-it-out rah-rah Type A overachievers are having in the CrossFit culture. We who cannot motivate ourselves to exercise see these people -- most of them looking ever more attractive the longer they do it, I might add -- having a blast, blisters on their fingers, wraps on their wrists or ankles. No one likes watching too many people have too much fun and being too intense about it and rubbing it all in our faces. So when we see the opportunity, we light an online bag of poop on the CrossFit porch and run and hope it goes viral.

So, feel free to sit back and watch CrossFit squirm under scrutiny from your La-Z-Boy, but know you’re not really doing anyone much good by enjoying the scene. (And P.S., smoking or over-intense TV-watching will kill you a lot sooner than CrossFit.)

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