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In Response to “CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret”

Home/CrossFit Ktown Knoxville, Uncategorized/In Response to “CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret”

In Response to “CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret”

Row, row, row your C2's?


Front Squat: Heavy Set of 3

MetCon – Fran:

Finisher: 5 sets of Max L-sit Hold Followed by 1 Min Max DUs/L-Sit Hold.

First of all let me say, haters gonna hate. And if people don’t know exactly what something is they typically love to hate it. Sad, but true.

“CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret,” the article causing such a ruckus going around facebook is not the first article of its kind, nor will it be the last. (Did anybody even bother to notice it’s by the Huffy Post?…Yea…). The funny thing is they should probably change the title to “Marathon’s, Triathlon’s, Football’s, Crush Victims’, CrossFit’s, and Most Every Other Sport’s Dirty Little Secret” because rhabdomyolsis aka “rhabdo” can happen in any of these circumstances if the conditions are right.

First let me explain what rhabdo is. The article did a pretty decent job of it, but in case you’ve already forgotten here goes:

Myoglobin is a protein that hangs out in your muscle cells, binds oxygen, and does a heck of a lot of good for exercise. Myoglobin delivers oxygen to the mitochondria (powerhouse of the cell) and through a number of scientific and nerdy aerobic cellular respiration steps ENERGY is produced and used by the muscles! Pretty rad, huh? Endurance athletes have more myoglobin in their muscle cells because they produce ENERGY mainly through aerobic respiration, so the more myoglobin the more potential for energy production.

Myoglobin becomes a problem and rhabdo ensues when stressful situations cause your muscle cells to rupture or leak and release myoglobin into the blood stream. The kidneys try to break down the myoglobin and clear it from the blood, but are unsuccessful because myoglobin isn’t supposed to be in the bloodstream in the first place. This is why a symptom of rhabdo is brown urine, signaling the myoglobin was never broken down. Unfortunately, the kidneys can change myoglobin into ferrihaemate which ends up damaging the kidneys further.

When a muscle cell breaks, myoglobin isn’t the only thing to be released into the bloodstream. Your body’s cells are supported by a careful balance between different ions, potassium, sodium, and calcium. Potassium chills within the cell and sodium and calcium are knocking on the outside. Therefore, the rupture causes the potassium to flow outward while calcium and sodium come on in. The sodium and calcium get trapped and build up within the muscle cell causing some serious swelling, which in some cases may lead to compartmental syndrome. Even worse, the kidneys can’t handle the clearing of the potassium because they have been damaged from the myoglobin breakdown.

If kidneys reach full renal failure, you can die. Usually rhabdo is caught before this point and people are treated with lots of intravenous fluids and kept in the hospital to keep a watch on the kidneys’ functioning.

Sounds serious right? Well it is. Rhabdo is a serious medical condition, but what the article fails to mention is actually how rare it is. Pretty much everything has to go wrong for a person to get rhabdo. First of all, some people are more genetically likely to get rhabdo than others. That’s unfortunate. Secondly, drugs (not just the illegal kind) and alcohol can contribute to rhabdo because the kidneys are already stressed due to these substances. Dehydration and humidity are also contributing factors. That’s why we have a water fountain and encourage you all to use it during a workout! Infections or other illnesses, autoimmune diseases, and statins used to control high cholesterol are also contributing risk factors to rhabdomyolsis. IMO, statins suck. That’s a whole different post.

Next, there are some movements that are prone to cause rhabdo more so than others. Dun dun dun…eccentric contractions (muscles attempt to shorten while they are being stretched). In CrossFit we do a lot of eccentric contractions aka “negatives.” Squats, push-ups, pull-ups, etc all have eccentric contractions, BUT at Ktown we don’t do an exorbitant amount of them. Ever wondered why we don’t do hero workouts every week or why Death Days only rolls around once a year? Have you ever noticed how we FORCE people to scale these workouts and don’t allow new visitors during Death Days? How many times have I stressed when learning butterfly pull-ups not to do over 30 reps?!!? Maybe you have heard us say not to perform more than 30 GHD sit-ups when becoming familiar with this exercise. Well guys, it’s because you have smart coaches and smart programming. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

In the article there was a point the author made that struck me as ridiculous. When his friend called the CrossFit to cancel her membership as she should have (find a new CrossFit honey), he was surprised the trainer replied back with “Is it rhabdo?” and that the trainer would have heard of the condition. It is shocking to me as a coach to NOT know what rhabdo is and what movements could potentially cause it. Wouldn’t you expect a doctor to know the side effects of a drug, or a chef to know the ingredients in a meal, or a maid to know what chemical to use to take a stain out of the carpet? It is their responsibility to know these things, just like it is our job as coaches to know what rhabdo is. Guess what? We also know about things like heat exhaustion, DOMS, rehabbing an injury, dehydration, programming, nutrition, technique of movements, compartmental syndrome, and supplements. I could go on but you get the point. All these are aspects of a coach’s job so we better well know it, and if we don’t, we are going to learn it for you.

There are a few types of people who are prone to get rhabdo.
Exhibit A – The fit person who has never done CrossFit before but can push a lot harder due to their athletic background. Beware Exhibit A (former athletes, endurance athletes, etc), you still need to be scaled if the workout calls for it.
Case B – The person who is a “WodKilla” but then takes several months off, and in returning to CrossFit tries to do exactly what they did before. Beware Case B, you need to ease back into CrossFit, and I promise in no time you will be back to your “destructor of MetCons” status.
Model C – The mentally insane person who longs to kill themselves for the sake of a workout. Beware Model C, listen to your body and if it’s saying stop and rest, then LISTEN!

There is so much more I could say on this topic, but because you all stopped reading like two paragraphs ago I will save it for Monday.  I will end with these points, bear with me.

· A program without risk will surely provide no reward. If you want to get benefits out of your exercise program there must be some element of danger!
· Listen to your coaches. If we tell you to scale something there is a reason. It’s not that we think you are an un-fit person.
· If you have heard a horror story of rhabdo at a CrossFit, don’t go to that one!
· Stay hydrated and recover properly. Coffee is not an appropriate hydration method.
· Listen to your body and take a rest day if you need it. There is no rule saying you have to come all 5 days in a row.
· Remember out of the few rhabdo cases, there are thousands more of CrossFit changing lives.

It is more likely the drive to and from CrossFit will kill you rather than the workout itself,
<3 Coach Miss J


By | 2017-04-25T14:38:12+00:00 September 27th, 2013|CrossFit Ktown Knoxville, Uncategorized|7 Comments


  1. Mumps September 27, 2013 at 3:12 am

    Thanks, Miss J!!!

  2. G8rDave September 27, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Actually, I think Jessie should consider publishing this in some wider-known venue. It is incredibly well-laid out. We happen to know how much education Jessie, Grant, C-Bo, C-Greg, Mark, Dani, et al, have taken upon themselves. All with our safety and improved capacity in mind. Most people do not know this. Most people aren’t as fortunate as we are.

  3. Brad September 27, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Awful defensive for it not being a big deal, though better to educate your clan before something does happen, considering you don’t know the genetic makeup of all your clients. Also I highly doubt the water fountain in your gym is going to properly hydrate an athlete mid-workout…. promote it all you like but the intake of fluids has to be constant and habitual. Knowledge and the education of your clientele will prevent further cases, not you being an all-knowing trainer, which I am sure you are well versed from the well written article. (not sarcasm)

  4. Brian September 27, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Very well-written thoughts. Thanks!

  5. crossfitktown September 27, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I didn’t see where she said it wasn’t a big deal. I actually read “rhabdo is a serious medical condition” somewhere in there.

    I think the defensive tone stems from the prevalence of these sorts of articles demonizing CrossFit because of a few bad apples. The horrible truth is this: it is very easy to start a CrossFit gym. It is a very free-market system where it is expected the best will rise to the top. And I agree that should happen. The problem is that this theoretical rise does not happen overnight and people will get exposed to less than good CrossFit gyms.

    In all things caveat emptor. The consumer should take the onus upon themselves to seek the most qualified professionals to help them achieve whatever goals they may have. But this doesn’t always happen. Just look at our political world. :/

    Anyway, I’m sitting on a beach in the Greek islands. I shouldn’t be trolling around on our blog.

    Miss you, Ktown.


  6. crossfitktown September 27, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts, Brad! We agree at our gym that knowledge is power, therefore, why I wrote this post. My goal was to help shed light on rhabdo and know when to listen to your body/ the types of people more at risk. I do not declare to be an all-knowing trainer, but I should be well versed in my profession (especially in the sense of something as serious as rhabdo), and we have an open policy at Ktown to ask questions. So if someone asks me a question and I don’t know the answer, I’m going to go find it out.

    And in the sense of the water fountain, yes you probably won’t be completely fueled by a water fountain mid-workout, but if you are pausing your workout to go drink water you are decreasing the intensity of the workout and the chance of rhabdo. You also can’t tell me that soccer and rugby players, runners, swimmers, basketball players, etc can’t work for for 15 minutes (the average length of time for a crossfit workout) without being completely hydrated. Finally, if you notice I ended the post with stay hydrated and recover properly! Because you are right, it is VERY important!

    -Miss J

  7. butch September 30, 2013 at 12:38 am

    Hi what an explanation of rhabdo !! As a former college major in exercise physiology, biochemistry and with over 30 years in the medical field 99% of physicians cannot explain it better and do not know the physiology as well as you. In addition to yourself and colleagues the knowledge of exercise techniques, proper form and the physiological basics behind training make crossfitknown a top of the line facility . thanks butch

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