For 27-year-old Josh Burchick, incorporating a daily workout can be challenging. Burchick works in Annapolis as a professional firefighter with 24-hour shifts.
“I workout whenever I have the chance while at the firehouse,” said Burchick. “During my off-time, I’ll typically workout three days in a row with one day of rest.”
Whether at the fire station or on an off day, Burchick stays in shape by completing CrossFit Annapolis’ workout of the day, or WOD, CrossFit’s acronym for the daily workout all members complete.
CrossFit is an emerging sport that has gained major popularity in recent years. Based on natural movements, the sport incorporates aerobic exercise, gymnastics and Olympic weight lifting. As the number of gyms grows, CrossFit is surrounded by criticism regarding injury and teaching. Yet, those who do it tout the benefits.
“I have only seen a couple of injuries while at CrossFit, but never because of CrossFit,” Burchick said. The injuries he has seen have come at the fault of the member and lack of strong work habits. Burchick said the injuries most common are those found in any type of exercising.
Soon after joining CrossFit Annapolis, Burchick became a Level 1 CrossFit coach. “I can absolutely say that CrossFit certification programs instill a deep understanding of movement patterns and form,” said Burchick.
“Any discipline of study is subject to personnel who are not as great as others,” Burchick said. CrossFit teachers that gain negative attention are the newer trainers that are still learning how to properly teach the sport. Burchick explained that experience is key to be a strong trainer and that takes time.
Created by Greg Glassman in 2002, CrossFit promotes itself as the “sport of fitness.” Glassman started the practice in one small gym in Santa Cruz with the help of his physicist father. They learned about the science of working out and applied that to gym routines.
Today, CrossFit is accessible for all. A soccer mom, college freshman and a 45-year-old businessman will be sweating and groaning their way through a 10-minute workout together. And the popularity of it is growing. A local CrossFit affiliate, CrossFit Towson, is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary. CrossFit Towson is located in an old car garage on York Road. With an industrial feel, the gym has a large open space in the center, with pull-ups bars on one wall and free weights on the other.
In 2005, there were less than 20 CrossFit gyms worldwide. In nine years, that number has increased to over 8,000. Steven Reech, owner of CrossFit Towson, says the sport is growing because results are visible “and they work.” Operating in one of the gym or “boxes” as CrossFitters call them, classes run about an hour long. They begin with a warm-up followed by an intense workout, a skill development segment and group stretching.
The WOD is written down at the gym, and a coach takes the class through it. Whether you go at 6 a.m. or 6:30 p.m., you do the same fitness regime as everyone else that day. Each affiliate has a company website where the WOD is posted for those who can’t make it to the gym that day. A background in weight lifting or college athletics is not needed.
“Intensity is power,” said Reech. The end of a workout leaves people on the ground, covered in sweat, but they know they have done something, he said.
“It’s appealing. Anyone can do it,” said Sean Hutchinson, a Level 1 Trainer at CrossFit Towson. Both Hutchinson and Reech know CrossFit is growing because of the community it builds. Members workout alongside one another and push each other.
The sense of camaraderie is palpable while being in the gym. Once 4:30 p.m. hits, class begins at CrossFit Towson. There are seven participants working at their own pace but cheer each other on. They pass along encouragement as they move from exercise to exercise. It’s a 10-minute intense workout, but they are all in it together.
Built off of the squat, CrossFit’s workouts focus on everyday movements. “They make you ready for anything at any given moment,” said Reech.
45-year-old Matt Butrim joined CrossFit Towson about eight months ago and not only loves it, but is seeing health benefits from the sport. Before adding the daily fitness routine into his life, Butrim was overweight. He has since lost 40 pounds.
“My age and weight were catching up to me,” he said. Butrim was looking to implement exercise into his life. He decided to try the sport after hearing about how a good friend joined and was seeing major improvements in his life in just three months. The community and family feel of the sport kept him motivated to attend classes.
Butrim is toned, fit and ready for anything. His passion of CrossFit is evident as he circles the end of the 4:30 p.m. class, talking to fellow CrossFit goers.
“It’s basically having a personal trainer every day,” he said.
CrossFit Towson trainer Chelsea Naylor has only been involved in the CrossFit community for seven months. She began coaching two months ago.
But it is hard to tell that Naylor is relatively new to CrossFit. She leads her class with confidence as she yells encouraging words at her clients and constantly corrects form.
“Come on Kevin!” Naylor said. “Get three more reps in to finish strong!”
Naylor is patient, persistent and precise when it comes to getting her clients’ form correct. She shows a newcomer how to properly do a Turkish Get-Up over a dozen times. Naylor repeatedly lies on the ground, grabs the kettle ball, lifts her body using her arms, swings her right leg around into a lunge and uses her core to lift herself all the way up until she’s standing straight. She does this over and over again until her client finally mimics her moves correctly.
“There you go, girl!” Naylor said. “Give me another set!”
Naylor said since CrossFit has only been around since 2002, it’s a relatively new sport. She said this results in the trend of young instructors, as well. Naylor said it’s unfair for people to judge an instructor’s ability based off of age.
“I feel like the only way that trainers are going to become experience is by starting,” Naylor said. “Here I had to shadow someone for a month before I started even after I received my certification.”
Evident in her smile, being a CrossFit instructor is a rewarding experience for Naylor. She said the close-knit community feel of CrossFit keeps everyone accountable and motivated to push themselves.
“In the CrossFit community we come in, talk to one another and form relationships,” Naylor said. “No one comes in here, puts their headphones on and does their own thing in the corner which is something you can’t get at a gym.”
Many CrossFitters, including Butrim and Naylor, say they enjoy the sport because of the community encouragement. But, is it possible that the encouragement is being mistaken for motivation? Is this motivation really masking peer pressure?
CrossFit classes tend to be small. If classes are big, then people are put in smaller groups or given a partner. Therefore, there’s always a sense of competitiveness in the room. Competition is constant with the other people in the class. This component of CrossFit easily makes people push themselves too hard. Thus, resulting in injury and illness.
Dealing with high intensity sports injuries is a daily task for Towson University Senior Assistant Athletic Trainer Tara Stritch. “Injuries can occur for many reasons – improper form, overuse, environmental factors, or other factors such as encountering a force,” she said.
Minor CrossFit injuries mimic those in other high intensity sports. Stritch said that the training load of the athlete contributes to his/her possibility of injury. CrossFitters are known for going very hard soon after joining due to the nature of the class and not giving their bodies time to adjust.
Burchick encouraged new members to look for gyms that have a “foundations program…[that] showcases and instructs many of the fundamental movements that a member will see in the gym.” By knowing beforehand the type of activity, the rate of injury can decrease.
The sport of CrossFit has undergone scrutiny because of its other side effects. Rhabdomyolysis, also known as Rhabdo for short, is a critical syndrome caused by muscle injury. The muscle becomes injured due to a decrease in muscle fibers that release their contents into the bloodstream. In severe cases, this disease can lead to kidney failure, problems with the liver and in extreme circumstances, death.
Some say the problem is that early symptoms of the disease are common among many different types of physical activities. These signs include muscle weakness, nausea or vomiting and dehydration. Later, more serious symptoms of the disease include severely swollen body parts and dark-colored urine.
Stritch has not seen rhabdo personally but knows how serious the condition can be. While in school, she was taught that it came from high endurance events, such as an ironman or a century ride, both that are considered the ultimate races for triathlon racers and cyclists. CrossFit workouts do not include long distance running or cycling, but cases of rhabdo are being reported.
Many people get involved in the sport to eventually go to the CrossFit games. Their ultimate goal is to receive the title as fittest man or woman on earth. Glassman has defined fitness as work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Therefore, CrossFit competitors push their bodies to the furthest limit. Oftentimes these athletes, whether intentional or unintentional, push themselves too far.
Gabriel Biolotta, 18-year-old CrossFit Towson trainer, has been participating in the sport for the past seven years. He said it’s common to overlook muscle weakness because people are taught that if they feel tension in their muscles, then that means they’re doing the exercise correctly to get the results they desire. Biolotta said that many people, including himself have undergone the early symptoms of Rhabdo without actually being diagnosed with the syndrome.
“On The Biggest Loser, you see contestants pass out and throw up all the time,” Bilotta said. “It’s a fine line between your body being in pain due to progress and due to overexertion.”
Biolotta has witnessed people with Rhabdo. He said it’s a very serious syndrome that shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, he doesn’t like the bad publicity CrossFit receives because of the disease.
“There’s pros, cons and side effects to almost any and every thing,” Biolotta said. “The key is to educate people about these things.”
CrossFit undergoes additional scrutiny from critics because instructors tend to be young. Age causes people to raise questions about experience and education levels. This frustrates young instructors like Biolotta who deal with this problem regularly.
Biolotta said his age has always been a challenge. He was one of the first employees hired at his last fitness related job. He said he was released from his old job because customers didn’t value his opinion. Therefore, he wasn’t getting clients.
“I have the proper certification so leave your ego at the door,” Biolotta said. “If an adult is going to come in and not listen to me when I’ve been doing it years longer than them then it’s an issue of pride.”
Biolotta said that though CrossFit has been around for 12 years, people are just now recognizing the sport. He said CrossFit has gotten more popular over the past two years.
“CrossFit is exploding because of social media,” Biolotta said. “The majority of people who are on social media are young which is why the instructors and competitors are young.
Like a lot of CrossFit trainers, Biolotta wants to ensure people that they are qualified to teach CrossFit regardless of age.
“People use instructors’ ages as an excuse,” Biolotta said. “Don’t let your fear prevent you from changing your life and experiencing an intense, successful workout.