Why the Real CrossFit Story Isn’t Told

CrossFit's dirty little secret.

There’s an elephant in the room, or perhaps since this is for the CrossFit community, it would be more fitting to say an elephant in the Box.

In any case, there really is a dirty little secret about CrossFit, but it’s not the one that’s been blasted across mainstream media. You know, the one that’s given CrossFit a bad rap. Rhabdomyolysis. Aka, Uncle Rhabdo.

Physical therapist Eric Robertson’s cautionary tale about CrossFit called ‘CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret’ has been widely circulated since it first came out in 2013. You’ve probably read it, maybe even responded to it, so there’s no need to repeat it.

In a nutshell, the story started on a warm Texas evening and ended with a cold war on the CrossFit culture. The attack article, in essence, claimed that CrossFit causes Rhabdo … a lot. It quoted a study that reported the overall incidence of rhabdomyolysis to be as rare at 0.06 percent, or a handful of patients out of hundreds of thousands of patients.

In Robertson’s words, “Rhabdomyolysis isn’t a common condition, yet it’s so commonly encountered in CrossFit that they have a cartoon about it, nonchalantly casting humor on something that should never happen.”

Hate to break it to the haters, but Rhabo is real. It can and does happen to non-CrossFitters, even children. A 3-year-old Hawaii boy recently caught the flu and ended up in the hospital, unable to walk. The diagnosis? Rhabdomyolysis.

More often though, it’s associated with exercise and not just CrossFit. One of the top sports medicine doctors in Hawaii recounted cases of rhabdo that he’s personally seen. Each one had to do with intense football training or military boot camps.

But, that’s not the story the mainstream media wants to tell. This is coming from a journalist and CrossFit mom who has tried to tell the real CrossFit story on the news and in the paper. You know, the one about community. About cheering each other on, about getting that first pull up or muscle up. About transforming lives, about overcoming obstacles one WOD at a time. About getting fitter, faster, stronger.

Managers had tunnel vision on spinning the story the same old way. CrossFit is bad. It could hurt you. You will get rhabdo if you join the “cult.”

A reporter’s job is to present different viewpoints and let the audience decide for themselves.

When the subject is CrossFit, however, there seems to be an agenda. In 20 years of covering news, everything from interviewing U.S. presidents to reporting on controversial topics such as GMO’s, there’s never been a report scrutinized as closely as my CrossFit story. For real.

It was a fight to get the assignment at all because managers had their minds set on doing the “CrossFit Dangers” story. There was a question about whether someone who CrossFits is the right reporter for the job because they’re part of the “cult.” Isn’t that precisely who should do the story? To get it right, not sensationalize it?

Long story short, the report focuses on what CrossFit is. It starts by saying what people think it is: crazy strong athletes throwing a bunch of heavy weights around. Then it talks about the actual definition: varied functional movements performed at high intensity; CrossFit as a workout versus as a sport; why it’s so addictive; the community aspect; how kids and Seniors are doing the workouts scaled. And yes, the “dirty little secret.” The risk of injury, and why good Coaches, technique and listening to your body are so important. It even included interviews with a Sports Doc about the “highest risk” movements such as snatches and the perspective of a Naturopath about why some CrossFit personalities go too far with their diets.

Finally the real story will be told. Then the promo airs. “It’s the exercise craze that could put you at risk of injury.” Huh? Do we really want to resort to sensationalism and scare tactics, or tell the truth? News flash, if you work out, you may get injured.

A coach at CrossFit East Oahu asked after seeing the promo, “Are you hating on CrossFit?”

“No, just trying to tell the real story.”

CrossFit isn’t for everyone, but it isn’t the villain the media makes it out to be. It’s about the power of community and empowering people to do things they never thought were possible.

That’s a story that made sense to share for New Year’s right? Wrong. A column about how CrossFit has helped Diabetics get off medication or made tasks like lifting a case of bottled water possible for some was cut from the paper. The editor said it was too much of a “commercial” for CrossFit.

Nope. Just the real CrossFit story that’s not being told.


Tannya Joaquin is the Media Director for GR3EN energy. She’s an Emmy-nominated broadcast journalist, columnist and CrossFit Mom. Her passion is telling positive, empowering stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. She cites the story of Rocky Piwko, I AM ADAPTIVE athlete and CrossFit Douglasville owner, as one of her favorites. Contact her at tannya@gr3en.org or 808.725.1751.