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FOX Focus: Crossfit Controversy

Reported by: Katherine Underwood

Videographer: P. Busa
Videographer: K. Mahoney
Videographer: B. Flynn
Editor: M. Wickham
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Updated: 2/21/2012 9:00 am
Over the past few years Crossfit has emerged as one of the most intense and innovative workouts available.

While Crossfit has gained a dedicated following nationwide, it's also drew harsh criticism from health and fitness professionals who claim to see severe injury trends among Crossfit athletes.

Those critics have used a Youtube video posted by our local Clifton Park Crossfit as an example of all that's wrong with this training.

FOX23 News reached out to Jason Ackerman, owner of the Clifton Park and Albany Crossfits to talk about the video.

Ackerman invited us to his Albany gym on Sand Creek Road.

“Chest up, chest up, there we go,” yelled a Crossfit trainer as we watched him coach a daily workout.

“You're pushing yourself to your limit maybe beyond where you thought your limit was,” explained Erica Wilson who has been doing Crossfit for only a few months.

I have probably never had more confidence about myself than I have since coming here,” Wilson said.

Dona Wildove has been a Crossfit athlete for years, and says it’s, “youthful, youthful, youthful.”

Wildove, who tells us she is older than 65 but younger than 70 years old, works out alongside 20-somethings everyday.

The coaches scale anything for anybody not just me, but for anybody,” she said.

The Crossfit philosophy is to use constantly varied, functional movements at a high intensity.

But not everyone is buying it.

A video called “Revival Strongman” shot right here in the Capital Region racked up hundreds of thousands of hits on Youtube.

We watched it with Union College’s Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Dan Gabelman.

“It's a frightening thing to look at, maybe she didn't get hurt this time, will she next time,” Gabelman said.

Health and fitness professionals nationwide alarmed by the athlete's form and that no one is stopping her.

“The knee is completely uncontrolled and it slides inward with every lift that places a significant strain on the ACL,” explained chiropractor Dr. Jason Brown owner of Brown Integrated Chiropractic.

The video drew criticism from some of the most-well known coaches in the strength and conditioning industry, including Boston Red Sox Strength Coach Mike Boyle.

And we found pages upon pages of outraged viewers on Youtube, Facebook, and countless other sites.

FOX23 News took the video straight to the source.

Albany Crossfit Trainer Kevin Houston was there that day.

“This one video is a snapshot and we have thousands of videos that show our people doing good technique,” he said.

Houston tells us the video is misleading.

“Crossfit is not “Revival Strongman” Crossfit is so much more than that,” Houston said.

Ackerman agrees, saying this "strongman lift" was chosen as part of a two-day event held at Albany Crossfit and says it's not implemented in their daily workouts.

“Crossfit doesn't choose to use that lift, it was a one time thing that people got carried away with,” Ackerman said. “That was one movement in a 15 to 20 minute session that we were doing just for fun.”

“We're happy to admit when things we do aren't 100 percent safe and we have corrected a lot of the things we've seen,” explained Houston.

Houston tells us the women are lifting just over 100 pounds.

Gabelman expresses concern with the athletes' form.

“All the load is across the low back and into the spine,” he said pointing at the video.

Gabelman says improper form indicates that the weight is too much.

“What they're really doing is taking strongmen who are an exception to the rule and applying that to general rule and that's not the way it goes,” Gabelman said.

Gabelman showed us a variation with one of his senior lacrosse players using a 45-pound bar and what he calls proper form.

Like many other critics, Gabelman's main concern is taking inactive people right off the couch and introducing them to Crossfit.

“There’s no screening process any is allowed to come into our doors and be interested in joining,” Ackerman explained.

Dr. Brown says that could be the reason medical professionals claim to have seen an injury trend among Crossfit athletes.

“The common injuries I see, and my colleagues see throughout the US with Crossfit, are low back injuries, knee injuries, and shoulder injuries,” Dr. Brown said.

But Ackerman says there've been no serious injuries at his gym.

He tells us there is a two-week ramp-up period to assess mobility and teach proper movement.

“People that are not ready to put heavy weight in their hands, don't,” he assured us.

Still, critics are afraid this go-hard or go home atmosphere, could push people past their physical limits.

“The problem ends up when this starts to compromise their rational approach to long-term health,” Dr. Brown said.

“We start seeing a myriad of other issues where they're always hurt but they're going there because the community is strong and you can’t take that away from Crossfit,” Gabelman said.

“It is what we do and we’re not afraid to put ourselves out there and we’re happy to admit when things we do aren’t 100 percent safe and we have corrected a lot of the things we’ve seen,” explained Houston.

Critics tell FOX23 News they want Crossfit to be treated as an elite sport, and want people to be aware of the risks associated with it.

But trainers at Albany Crossfit say stepping into their gym is no more dangerous than playing a pickup game of basketball.

For more information on Albany Crossfit, CLICK HERE.

To watch the “Revival Strongman” video in its entirety, CLICK HERE.

5 Comment(s)
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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of FOX23 News.

Back on it - 2/29/2012 11:07 AM
0 Votes
I have been injured at this same crossfit. Actually the injury caused me not to continue with this program at this location. The level of instruction is poor. I have known individuals who have been injured during their two week training sessions due to poor instruction. I have witness proper instruction at other locations in the region where they focus on form and technique. I suggest for anyone who is interested in becoming a crossfitter that you observed the box that you intend to join and make sure they are stretching, warming up, and cooling down as a mandatory part of the program. If you are are interested in this program I suggest trying a smaller box with more one one one instruction. Try coming across the river or visiting the box located downtown Albany on Broadway.

Andre2010 - 2/22/2012 11:15 PM
0 Votes
That video has thousands of dislikes, what people don't realize is that those dislikes are from Crossfitters. Whoever was the coach that day should be fired and should have to resit the Crossfit course. Note to critics : Don't knock it til you've tried it! Crossfit changes lives!

Pukie - 2/22/2012 3:44 PM
0 Votes
Yeah Jerry, because no one plays competitive sports "for fun" how silly of me...

jerryriggins - 2/22/2012 1:13 PM
0 Votes
Ummm...did the person above me actually read the article? The coach said they were doing this "for fun". This was not a video of a competition like you stated. Horrible and dangerous form filmed for the whole world to see.

Pukie - 2/22/2012 10:51 AM
1 Vote
Katherine, I think you did a pretty good job presenting both sides of this issue, and overall I enjoyed your article. There is, however, one key piece of information that everyone seems to forget or intentionally ignore about the Revival Strongman video- It was video of a competition. This means that the lifting being performed in that video (the same lifting that most of the critics in this article use as a judgement of CrossFit), was being done by individuals who signed up to push themselves to the limit, outside of the regular CrossFit environment. Calling what the participants in this competition were doing "risky" is like watching any other competitive sport and calling it risky... a claim that should be met with a resounding "duh". Interpreting the Revival Strongman video as a representation of the training done at a regular CrossFit Affiliate is simply foolish given a complete picture of why and when those athletes were lifting the way they were. What's funny about the critics in this article is that they clearly haven't taken the time to do even the limited research that Katherine has for the article. She walks into her first affiliate to find a Coach making specific form corrections, and training a 65-70 year old client... not something you would find if our critics were correct in their interpretations.
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